12 tips for building a beautiful classroom library

“How do you get all of these beautiful books?”

AA Lit Library

Before answering that question, I wanted to share a quick story that will give you a better idea of how my classroom philosophy and library has grown over time…

In 2015-16, I decided to make the “loop” from a middle school to a high school in the same cluster, which meant that I had the honor of teaching many of my eighth graders again as ninth graders.

There was only one problem: time, or the lack thereof. Our high school runs on a block schedule, which means that I see my students for 80ish minutes every other day. When you factor in two weeks for semester exams, another two weeks for end-of-year state exams, and another day or two each quarter for mandated district assessments, we’re down to like 150 days. Cut that in half and we’re talking 75 days. (Not to mention teacher and student absences, field trips, assemblies, fire drills, snow days, etc.) 75 days. That’s it!

Early on that year, I tried planning a Lord of the Flies unit. It went about as well as you’d expect. I quickly realized that the traditional (and generally accepted) way of doing the high school English block wasn’t going to work, and began to develop a different approach (you can read more about that here).

I knew that I had 75 days to help my students fall in love with reading, again or for the first time. Therefore, every minute, every text, every assignment had to be intentional, especially if I wanted students to consider reading during the other 290 days of the year (and the following year, and for the rest of their lives).

And so, as I started to prioritize choice and time and access and relevance and volume…it worked! Not right away. Not perfectly. Not for all students at the same time. But, it worked.

And guess what else happened as I gave students consistent time to read? I started to read more, too. It became easier to make recommendations and to build relationships. My students and I began to bond over books. (It’s amazing how many students become “behavior problems” when you make them read crappy texts).

“Wait, how is class over already?”

“Before this year, I hated to read.”

“Can you teach us again next year?”

By May, I wasn’t ready to say good bye to my ninth graders. We were just getting started. And so, with the support of our school’s administrative team, I was able to “loop” again.

The next fall, the start of the 2016-17 school year, Project LIT Community was born. At the time, we did not have any of the beautiful books that you see on our shelves today.

“So, how do you get all of these beautiful books?”

Here’s my advice…

1. Work with your students to develop a list of recommend reads. You know, the books that fly off your shelves and tend to make their way into backpacks and homes (that’s a good thing, by the way!). Then, create a visual like this one that you can share with friends and family.

2017 Reads Amato

I know we want to fill our libraries immediately, but focus on quality more than quantity.  If the book’s not going to be read, why bother? There’s a reason it only costs a quarter. (With that said, if you know how to find great books on the cheap, let me know!

2. Make it easy for people to donate! There are two options I’d suggest:

A. Encourage people to “drop off books at your school Monday-Friday between ____ and ____” (especially if you’re hosting a larger book drive)

B. Create an Amazon Wishlist. Be sure to follow my friend and Project LIT chapter leader Mrs. G (@mrsg_mchs) on Twitter to see how this looks in action!

3. Empower your students in this process! Have them design graphics. Write persuasive letters to community members. Star in videos. Pose for pictures. Run social media accounts. Create commercials. You name it! The goal is to make sure that…

4. Supporters see and hear from our students! Remember that the kind folks out there are not buying these books for us (the boring adults). They’re buying them for our amazing young people! It’s important to show our community that our students WANT to read these books, NEED to read these books, LOVE to read these books.

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5. Remember to say thank you! It takes 30 seconds to snap a picture of your students and share it with your crazy aunt on Facebook who just purchased 10 books from your Amazon Wishlist. It takes five minutes to grab a bunch of notecards and have your students write thank you notes to everyone who contributed to your Donors Choose project. It matters.

6. Be passionate! Be persistent! I know that in a perfect world, teachers would not have to spend their time hustling for books on social media. Believe me, I get that. And it breaks my heart that there always seems to be money for test-prep programs and scripted curriculum and central office staff members and turnaround specialists and the latest technology. Books, though? Nah, you’re on your own there, teach.

However, in order to change that, on both an individual and systemic level, we’ve got to be passionate. We’ve got to be persistent. We’ve got to keep on posting, and preaching, and persuading. We’ve got to keep on sharing, and shouting, and celebrating the small successes.

Does it take time? Absolutely. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

7. Tell everybody. When you’re passionate, people notice. Students will say, “Mr. Amato, that dude’s a reader. He loves books.” My friends and family know it, too. Reading has a way of coming up in conversations. And every once in a while, someone will even ask, “How can I help?” I’m always ready with my answer!

8. Be sure to keep your principal in the loop, too. Share the great things that are happening in your classroom. Share your vision for literacy instruction. Share how your students are growing as readers and writers. Need data? Share student work and student reflections and student surveys. Share parent feedback.

All parents (and I assume all administrators) love seeing students who are engaged and excited to come to English class. They love hearing that their students are reading more than they have in years. They love knowing that their students’ identities and cultures are affirmed through the texts they’re reading. They love watching their students gain confidence and a sense of belonging.

Once parents and principals are on board, they’ll become some of your biggest advocates and supporters.

9. Apply for grants. Look, I hear you. I can picture the meme. “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” And it’s true. We barely have enough time to eat our lunch most days.

But, keep your eyes open. I usually discover grants while scrolling through my Twitter feed, and not all of the applications require you to write a thesis.

Oh yeah, I get rejection letters all the time. And they all sting. I spend three or four hours (at least) pouring my heart out, trying to explain to a stranger why my amazing students deserve access to Long Way Down and Dear Martin and The Hate U Give,  out only to get back some scripted “Thanks for…Unfortunately…maybe next year…” email?! It hurts.

But, as Michael Jordan likes to say (at least I think it’s MJ), “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” (Never mind, I just Googled it — shout out to Wayne Gretzky!)

Besides, it only takes one or two to say yes, and then you can take that grant money and…

10. Order from First Book! I cannot speak more highly of First Book, its team and its mission. The marketplace is a game-changer for teachers and schools who care about getting great books into the hands of kids!

11. Join Project LIT Community. We’re a growing group of passionate teachers and students who are committed to flooding our schools and communities with diverse books. While we come from elementary and high schools, urban and rural districts, we’re unified in our belief that this is THE work that matters.

As soon as you complete our chapter leader application, we’ll send you a bunch of checklists and resources to help you get started. From there, we have an amazing community of educators across the country ready to offer support and inspiration, whether it’s sharing/swapping books, boosting your Donors Choose Project, or providing words of encouragement in our Facebook group and Twitter chats (#ProjectLITchat).

Over the past year, teachers and students have launched Project LIT chapters in more than 150 schools in 35 states, and we’re just getting started! Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to learn more about our grassroots movement.

12. Start small, but start somewhere. Change happens one book at a time, and in a couple of years, you and your students will be able to look back at the journey and be proud of what you have accomplished together!

That’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks so much for reading! Please reach out via email (jarred.amato@gmail.com) or Twitter (@jarredamato) with any questions or comments!

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Best-Selling Author Jason Reynolds, Parnassus Books and Project LIT promote reading at Lipscomb University

8Lipscomb University’s College of Education, in partnership with Parnassus Books, hosted award-winning, bestselling author Jason Reynolds as part of the Lipscomb Literacy: Building Equity & Engagement series on April 10.

The visit saw widespread support and participation from area schools with around 600 middle school and high school students in attendance to hear Reynolds talk about the importance of reading and telling your story.

 

Students had an opportunity to share and discuss their thoughts about Reynolds work prior to the main event through a book club session with the Project LIT Community in Beaman Library. The session included small group discussion of Reynolds’ “Long Way Down.” Project LIT Community began in 2016 when founder Jarred Amato, inspired by an article he read in The Atlantic about “book deserts,” worked with his Maplewood High School students to start a movement to quench the lack of books.

“The initial goal was to increase book access in Nashville. It has evolved from that to providing access to more diverse books, more culturally relevant books and great books in particular, and to promote a love of reading in our communities,” explained Amato.

“Simply increasing book access without focusing on the quality of the books or increasing excitement about reading isn’t going to solve the problem. The goal is to create a community of lifelong readers at all levels and bring people together for conversations about books,” said Amato.

You can read the entire article here. You can also check out last week’s blog post, “How do you measure the impact of an author visit?”

Thanks so much for reading, and be sure to check out our #ProjectLITchat tonight. 7 ET/6 CT! ALL are welcome!

How do you measure the impact of an author visit?

In urban school districts, money is always tight. Teachers across the country, from Nashville to the Bronx, Denver to D.C., are repeatedly told that there’s no room in the budget for new books or field trips. Author visits? Forget about it.

(It’s funny, though, that there always seems to be room for test-prep programs and “turnaround” consultants who are ready to a) take credit for any student growth, even if they had no role in that success and b) place blame on schools and teachers for failing to “implement with fidelity” when test scores remain flat. But that’s a topic for another day…)

If, by chance, teachers are encouraged to submit a proposal for an opportunity their students unequivocally need and deserve, there’s almost always a catch: “That sounds great, but…how will you measure its impact?”

Last week, thanks to the leadership and generosity of Lipscomb University and Parnassus Books, 635 Nashville students spent 75 minutes listening to Jason Reynolds (yes, THAT Jason Reynolds) share one story after another. Stories about his childhood and family, about his relationship with reading and writing, about his obstacles and challenges, about his hopes and dreams. Stories that our students could relate to and identify with, stories that made us laugh and cry, stories that inspired us to do better and be more.

No one in that auditorium wanted it to end. No one in that auditorium questioned its significance. Hundreds of readers and writers were born that morning. Hundreds of children were seen that morning. And heard. And loved. And affirmed. And inspired.

And yet, I can still hear the critics…

“That sounds great, but…how will you measure its impact?”

Here’s the answer I’d like to give those critics: You can’t! And if you’re the kind of person who needs to justify giving our students these life-changing experiences by connecting it to some test score or reading level, then we probably don’t need to be friends.

However, I recognize that people deserve to know that their money is being spent wisely, that if they’re going to reach out to Jason Reynolds or Kwame Alexander or Nic Stone, it’s going to be worth it.

And that’s the reason I wanted to write this post – to show, through a series of photos and student responses, the impact of an author visit. The impact of Jason Reynolds.

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From he left to right, top to bottom: Rodrea, Jakaylia, Angel, Demontre, Jay, David, Calvin, and Selena.

(If, by the end, after reading everything our students have to say about the experience, you’re still not convinced, go back and read it again …)

TUESDAY, APRIL 10: 7:15 am

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Our new t-shirts and hoodies arrived in just in time! We met in the cafeteria at 7:15 and boarded the bus to Lipscomb University by 7:30. Shout to Coach Broome for driving us!

8:00-9:15 am

We received a warm welcome upon our arrival at Lipscomb University! Prior to the author event, we coordinated a Project LIT Book Club with pre-service teachers that included a get-to-know you icebreaker (quiz-quiz-trade), small-group discussion of Long Way Down, anagram competition, and, of course, trivia!

Lipscomb also provided breakfast and Bison swag bags for our students, and their students and faculty went above and beyond to make us feel welcomed!

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Thanks to Lipscomb for making our students feel like VIP!
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Discuss Long Way Down and learn more about college life? Win-win!

 

 

 

 

 

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Can we talk about that ending?!

9:15-10:00 am

Walk across campus to prepare for the main event…JASON REYNOLDS.

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Did you know that you can order Project LIT t-shirts and hoodies online?! And that they were designed by De’Sean, who’s featured in the middle of this photo?

 

10:00-11:15 am

The event started with an announcement from Lipscomb’s Julie Simone: Every student in the audience was going home with their own copy of Ghost!

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If you haven’t read Ghost yet, what are you waiting for?!

For the next 75 minutes, 1,300 eyes were glued to Jason Reynolds, hanging on his every word…

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The faces in the crowd say it all!

11:15-11:30 am

Time for photos, autographs, and some heart-to-heart conversations.

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Real men read.
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When Jason Reynolds speaks, we listen!

11:30 am-12:30 pm

Lunch on campus!

1:00 pm

Back to school, where we reflected on the day and began writing our thank you letters.

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There are dozens more, just like this one!

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THE NEXT DAY

I had students complete a reflection via Google Forms. Here’s what they had to say:

QUESTION #1: What did you think of Jason Reynolds’ talk? How did it inspire or encourage you?

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  • I loved how he wasn’t afraid to be his self, how he wasn’t a snobby author. He inspired me to write my own Jason Reynolds poems.
  • I think Jason’s words touched a lot of people and it most definitely shocked me. I didn’t think the books he wrote were actual stories he had been through or seen firsthand.
  • I related to him a whole lot. It inspired me to actually take my time and read.
  • It gave me another view on life, and it inspired me to do what I love.
  • I really enjoyed his story about his childhood and how he grew up. It inspired me to keep going in my life even when bad things happen.
  • I think it was a great message for me to hear because it reminds me of the city I live in now.
  • I think it was awesome to meet him, and it words were very inspirational to me. Everything he said was true and funny. It encouraged me to get myself prepared early. His message really touched a lot of people and he spoke about things most people don’t want to.
  • It don’t matter where you’re from you, you can make it.
  • We kind of had a similar mindset. That there weren’t books set out for me to read that showcased how I lived or how I grew up. It was always the same character description. For example, blue eyes, brown or blonde straight hair, things like that. I’d look at the book and just say to myself, “I know I won’t be able to relate to these characters,” so I stopped reading those books. Then, through Project LIT, I found books that I could relate to. Most are Jason’s books (yeah they are usually written from a boy’s POV, but I can still relate). That’s some of how he has inspired me.
  • I liked it because it was real, and he was being completely honest.
  • I loved how real and open he was with us. It really opened my eyes.

QUESTION #2: Overall, what has it been like to meet and interact with Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds? How did they change your perspective on reading and writing? On life?

Angel Nic Jason
Angel with Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds!
  • They have made me want to become a writer. To write more than I already do. I didn’t know it was possible until I met people who have made it.
  • Overall, after meeting Jason and Nic, I feel that reading is more than just reading about a story. Books have deeper meanings and like Jason does with his books, he wants you to use your imagination and create your own ending.
  • It felt like a dream! My whole life I wanted to meet an author because I love to write.
  • I never thought that I would actually meet real-life authors and it was cool to have conversations with them as if we were their friends.
  • Jason makes me want to read more because of the struggle he had without reading (until the age of 17).
  • Jason started off reading late in life. He gave up, but he started back. Like his success story isn’t perfect.
  • They were both awesome and meeting them was cool. They make we want to read more.
  • Well, I’ve always loved reading but I didn’t care too much about writing. Once I heard them, I was a bit encouraged to try writing to see how I would do.
  • They inspired me to write more and be great at doing it
  • THEY ARE BOTH MY FAVORITES! I love them both equally. They put a lot of things in perspective for me and I am going to continue to write regardless. It won’t matter if others don’t understand it or don’t like it. I won’t stop.
  • They were just like us. They weren’t already handed this stuff. They had to work.
  • It encouraged me to write more and made me feel that my feelings and ideas do matter.

QUESTION #3: What does Project LIT Community mean to you?

  • Project LIT has become a big part of my life. I love representing Project LIT and doing everything I can to help.
  • Project LIT means I’m making a difference in other people’s lives by being able to help others come together through the power of literature.
  • Project LIT means a lot to me. It’s a place where someone who feels alone can fit right in.
  • Project LIT to me means raising awareness to reading and literacy. Showing that reading can be fun along with the benefits that come with it.
  • Project LIT means a lot to me, because we are really making a huge difference little by little. I like how we got different schools to create their own chapters. I believe we could make a change if we keep going.
  • A worldwide book club to help kids in need receive and love books.
  • It means a lot to me because just where we have gone. We have made it so far from where we were at the beginning. We are making a change and it is special to know I’m helping do that.
  • Project LIT gives us a chance to give back and I’ve always wanted to get into the community to see what I could do for them. I know I’m very fortunate to have things, so I would like for others to have the same opportunities I’ve had. This project is one of my proudest accomplishments and I’m grateful I got to be a part of this.
  • It’s a way for me to help people access books.
  • Project LIT is everything to me. I am always bringing up the project and activities that we have coming up, because it’s a really great program that is 100% student led and planned. Of course I love Amato and many others that have helped it take off. It’s not just about reading, either. We have athletes to who read to children proudly and deliver books to centers without hesitation. The stereotype is that athletes are dumb and can’t read and that all they can do is hold a ball or run when that isn’t the case. We have a mother in the program. She might be young, but she’s super bright and intelligent and once again not the typical stereotype. Young, dumb, and someone who doesn’t want anything for herself. In this program, you have the quietest students you know bouncing around, laughing and smiling and being themselves because they are in an environment where NOBODY JUDGES ANYBODY! That’s why Project LIT is everything to me and more. I could honestly go on forever.
  • It’s a way to give back to others, and help us expand our reading and others.
  • Everything.

CLOSING THOUGHTS: Thanks to everyone, especially Jason, for an experience we’ll never forget. Teachers, hopefully this blog helps you and your students as you continue to fight the good fight.

Additionally, you can learn more about Project LIT Community and our inaugural Project LIT Summit here. Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions via email (jarred.amato@gmail.com) or Twitter (@jarredamato). Have a wonderful week, and as always, happy reading!

Project LIT in the press

I wanted to thank Education Dive for highlighting the work of Project LIT Community.

We started as, really, a classroom project. I teach at Maplewood High School in Nashville, and in the fall of 2016, I had a group of sophomores I had taught the year before. There was an article that summer in The Atlantic, “Where Books Are All But Nonexistent,” about book deserts and how when you’re a child in a community with limited book access, the chances of you becoming an avid reader are really slim.

Long story short, I read that article with my students in the fall, that first week back in school, and said, “Hey, how do we want to solve this problem here in Nashville? How do we want to eliminate book deserts?”

Initially, the idea was a class project that would maybe last a month or a semester, and it’s evolved into something much bigger.

You can check out full interview here: Project LIT: How a Nashville educator turned a class project into a nationwide movement.

Additionally, shout out to News Channel 5 for stopping by Maplewood HS last week for our Project LIT Book Club.

We’ll post the video when the link becomes available, but in the meantime, here’s the article: Maplewood High School’s ‘Project Lit’ Helps Students, Adults Get Reading.

Happy reading!
Jarred

 

Sunday 7: Project LIT Summit, Kwame’s “Rebound,” Black History Month & more

This week’s edition of the “Sunday 7” includes several book recommendations and an exciting Project LIT announcement. Before we begin, however, be sure read this beautiful blog post by my friend, Julia Torres.

Julia touches on the impact of Nic Stone’s (#BookBeyonce) recent life-changing visit to Montbello and what it takes to help students develop reading identities, especially those who grow up in book deserts, before addressing the most recent school shooting:

Love is also a verb.  It’s not just what you think, feel, or say.  It is not the expression of now-becoming-defunct “Thoughts and prayers”.  It’s what you do.  If we truly want change, we have to show that with our actions.  The future is now.  We cannot afford to wait for “someday”. Change has to begin today.

Unsurprisingly, it’s our students who are leading the way, demanding better, changing our world.

Angie Thomas Tweet

1. SAVE THE DATE: Project LIT Summit

I’m thrilled to announce that our inaugural Project LIT Summit will take place here in Nashville, TN on June 16, 2018. More details to come soon, but we’d love for you to join us as we spend the day celebrating our efforts to increase access to diverse books and promote a love of reading in schools and communities across our country!

2. REBOUND!

Kwame does it again! Fans of The Crossover will not be disappointed with the prequel, which brings us back to the summer of 1988 as Chuck Bell struggles to cope with the loss of his father. Again, this book is about more than just basketball, and readers of all ages will find themselves rooting for Chuck from start to finish!

Rebound Bulletin

Good news for my Nashville friends who can’t wait for the April 3rd release: Kwame will be at Parnassus Bookstore this Wednesday (4 CT)! Hope to see you there!

3. Book store finds

A few of the gems I found during last week’s trip to McKay’s bookstore:

stack4. Next Project LIT Book Club: MARCH

One comment that stood out during our class discussion of the March series last week?

“The crazy part about this? It’s all real.”

I cannot recommend the trilogy enough — I’d argue it’s a must-read for MS & HS students. And Nashville friends, we’d love for you to join us in the Maplewood High School library on March 9 (7:30-8:30 AM) for our next Project LIT Book Club. We’ll be discussing books 1 and 2 of the trilogy.

march 1 and 2

5. Book and TV Recommendation

On a recent SI podcast with Richard Deitsch, writer Jonathan Abrams discussed his new book, All the Pieces: The Inside Story of The Wire, which I cannot wait to read. Abrams also recommended that fans of The Wire check out Showtime’s new series, The Chi. My wife and I binge watched all five episodes this weekend – it’s outstanding!

6. Celebrating Black History Month

Looking forward to Maplewood Read Inour school’s African American Read-In later this week!

7. Moment of the Week

One of my students was looking for a new book to read at home, so I handed her a copy of Long Way Down.

“Oh, it’s a Jason Reynolds book? I know it’s gonna be good.”

And with that, wishing everyone a wonderful week. Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or comments via email (jarred.amato@gmail.com) or Twitter (@jarredamato). Thanks, as always, for reading!

Sunday 7: ACT “secrets,” access to relevant books, Nic Stone thank-you letters & more

Let’s get right into this week’s Sunday 7…

1.  The “secret” to improving ACT scores

To prepare for the ACT this spring, my high school juniors recently completed an English practice test. We decided to chunk the test over three class periods, which meant that each day I set a timer for 15 minutes and joined the students as we worked to complete 25 questions.

Then, we spent another 10-15 minutes reviewing answers, discussing test-taking strategies, and providing mini-lessons around specific skills.

By the end of the week, students had their first unofficial ACT score. The results? The majority of my 50+ juniors were at or above 21, the benchmark for college readiness, while the others were close – in the 18-20 range.

ACT scores

Does this guarantee that students will receive the same score on the real thing? Of course not. Is their success still worth celebrating? Absolutely!

“Mr. Amato, you make this ACT thing look really easy,” TJ told me this week.

And that’s the thing – English assessments aren’t complicated!

The test is easier when you read all the time, when you see yourself as a reader, when you have confidence in your reading ability, when you have the stamina to read silently for 45 consecutive minutes, when you’re comfortable with the test format, when you see the joy and value of reading, when you’ve been told that you will perform well…I could go on!

So, what’s the secret?! How can teachers and schools help students improve ACT scores?

There’s no magic formula or program, no set of texts or mandated curriculum that will do the trick. Instead, it’s a commitment to doing the little things, day in and day out, to build passionate and proficient readers.

And I believe this list is a good place to start:

top 10 tips

2. Article of the Week

If there’s one thing you read this week, make it this Ed Week interview with Jacqueline Woodson.

As Jacqueline states, “First and foremost, young people should be passionate about reading.”

So, how do we do that? How do we get young people passionate about reading?

Let’s start by making that the goal! Let’s start with all educators, schools, and communities working together to ensure that ALL of our students love to read. If we do that, the results (however you want to define them) will come.

If we want students to love reading, we need to give them access to relevant, engaging texts. As Jacqueline says, “If they don’t have access to books that speak to them, then we are already failing them.”

AA Lit Library

We need to help teachers develop diverse classroom libraries through both funding (good books aren’t cheap) and knowledge (many teachers don’t know what books to buy).

We need to make sure that all educators know about organizations like First Book and We Need Diverse Books and amazing authors Jason Reynolds. (Like Jacqueline, I’m shocked by the number of folks who still haven’t heard of Jason, but that’s a blog post for another day…)

We also need to make sure that that once teachers develop awesome libraries, they’re able to give students the time and space during the school day to read and celebrate the books they’ve worked so hard to get on their shelves. (There’s nothing worse than watching great books collect dust as students and teachers trudge through a scripted curriculum.)

3. Tweet of the Week

The good news is that there thousands of educators across the country who, like Jacqueline, believe that students deserve access to great books. My friend, Jessica Lingenfelter (@jessicatiara7), is one of them. And here’s what she tweeted this week:

Overheard at #ProjectLITBookClub: I haven’t read a book since 5th grade, then I got into Mrs. Lingenfelter’s class & she had cool books so I started reading again.

Sometimes it’s that simple…

4. Book store reflections

At the same time, as my wife and I spent a rainy Saturday morning at McKay’s Used Bookstore, I was reminded of two things: used books (especially the “cool” ones) aren’t cheap or easy to find.

Therefore, given the cost and scarcity of “cool” books, it’s no wonder many educators end up stocking their shelves with “blah” books (which is why I’m so excited to work alongside dozens of passionate Project LIT chapter leaders who are determined to change that).

McKays

5. Thank you, Nic

I touched on Nic Stone’s school visit in last week’s post, but I wanted to share a couple thank-you letters that our students wrote recently (there are dozens just like these):

Jay Thank You

And here’s another thank-you from Angel.

Angel Letter

6. Book of the Week

Excited to dive into the March trilogy with my students this month! It’s our next Project LIT Book Club selection, and we welcome all of you to join us in the Maplewood HS library on March 9!

march 1 and 2

7. Reminder: Project LIT Chat tonight!

We’d love for you to join us tonight (2-11) for our #ProjectLITchat on Twitter! Here’s a preview:

Twitter Chat questionsDon’t hesitate to reach out with any questions via email (jarred.amato@gmail.com) or Twitter (@jarredamato). Have a wonderful week, and as always, happy reading!

Sunday 7: Reflections from our Project LIT Book Club, featuring best-selling author Nic Stone

There’s a lot I will eventually write about Friday’s Project LIT Book Club.

Eventually, I’ll share the full journey, which in many ways begins in 2014, when my current juniors were in eighth grade, so that you can better understand how and why best-selling author and amazing human Nic Stone ended up at Maplewood High School on February 2, 2018, spending hours in our library snapping selfies, singing songs, answering questions, autographing books (and T-shirts), cracking jokes, and just listening to and loving our young people.

group pic DM

Eventually, I will find the words to properly thank Nic and capture the magic of that day, a day that my students and I will never forget. Eventually.

In the meantime, however, I figured it’d be best for you to hear from two of my favorite people, two students who inspire me and their classmates daily.

Let’s start with Jakaylia, who opened up our book club with this speech. Seriously, go ahead and watch it if you haven’t yet. And here’s what the speech looked like from her phone (because I know some of you still haven’t watched the video):

“Over The Past Few Months I’ve Had The Pleasure Of Getting To Know One Of My Favorite Authors Ever: Nic Stone, Best Selling Author of Dear Martin. I’ve Never Had The Opportunity To Personally Know One Of My Favorite Authors So For Her To Reach Out To Me Meant The Entire World. We’ve developed A Bond And She’s Inspired Me To Think Deeper About My Goals In Life And Never Giving Up. I’ve Always Had A Passion To Write Short Stories And Eventually Even Try To Write A Book. I Doubted Myself Because I Could Never Get Any Ideas Or I Would Beat Myself Up Once I Started Because I Felt Like It Wasn’t Good Enough. When I Had This Conversation With Nic a couple of weeks ago, She Told Me She Felt The Same Way And She Didn’t Know Where To Start But She Kept Trying. She Found It Within Herself To Be Different And Face Her Fears, Inspire Those Like Me Who Felt Like Writing Wasn’t For Them Or Got Discouraged Because Their Ideas Weren’t Supported. I Am Beyond Grateful And So Proud To Let Everyone Here This Morning Have The Same Amazing Opportunity That I’ve Had To meet and Hear From The One And Only Nic Stone. Before We Begin, We Wanted To Present Nic With Our Own Book. This Book Includes All Of Our Poems, Letters And Stories That Were Inspired By Dear Martin. We Hope That You Enjoy Reading Them As Much As We Enjoyed Writing Them.”

Nic 4 pics

And here’s what Chelsea, another one of our Project LIT leaders, tweeted out Friday night as she reflected on the day:

“Today was one of the best days of my entire life. Today I was able to be a part of something I could only dream of. I used to think that my writing was terrible. Until @jarredamato put me up to the challenge of writing essays and poems. I could never thank him enough. I also want to thank Nic personally for actually taking the time to read my poems and hangout with the kids at Maplewood. You were such a down to earth person. We hope you can attend a future book club with us. Thank you for believing in me and Maplewood. –CJ your favorite poet.”

Chelsea J

 

 

 

What it’s all about right there!

And with that, let’s get into our Sunday 7…

1. All students deserve the opportunity to read books like Dear Martin

So, here’s the question I’ve been thinking a lot about this weekend: How did this happen? How did Jakaylia end up with a microphone, surrounded by more than a hundred kind, caring, committed classmates and community members, introducing Nic Stone? How did Chelsea end up sharing her amazing poetry and artwork with an award-winning author?

Let’s start with the obvious: Nic Stone does not end up at Maplewood High School if my students do not have the opportunity to read Dear Martin.

Over the past year, since starting Project LIT Book Club in January 2017, my students and I have read and discussed the following books – The Crossover, March, Booked, Ghost, All American Boys, The Hate U Give, A Long Walk to Water, Solo, and Dear Martin – in addition to all of our self-selected reading.

At a time where teens are reportedly reading less frequently than ever, Jakaylia, Chelsea and the rest of their classmates are flying through at least one book a month.

Would this happen with some of the “classic” texts that many students are unfairly forced to read (or at least fake read) in the traditional classroom, where everything is designed for the comfort and convenience of adults?

Would this happen if I taught the books to death, forcing students to read the book at my pace and answer comprehension questions at the end of each chapter?

Would this happen if I forced my students to do all of their reading at home, even though I know that many are playing sports, working part-time jobs, looking after siblings, completing homework for seven or eight classes, and waking up at 4:30 or 5:00 AM to be at school by 7:05?

Not a chance.

Instead, for the first 20 to 30 minutes of every class period, Jakaylia sits on the black futon in the back of the room and gets lost in a book that values her and her classmates. She gets to meet Starr and Rashad and Justyce, compelling, complex characters that she can relate to and identify with. And then she gets to talk and write about what she’s reading in a safe and welcoming environment, where’s she encouraged to share her words with not only her classmates, but with the world. (And because of the relationship Jakaylia and I have developed over the past three years, she trusts me to snap pictures of her poems and text and tweet them to Nic.)

Nic group

2. That sounds great, but…

I can hear the questions now.

“But, how did you get all of those books? My school doesn’t have the money.”

“But, what about the standards?”

“But, why are you are always reading those books?”

Let me answer them in order:

My school doesn’t have the money either. That’s one of the reasons my students and I started Project LIT Community: to increase book access, and access to high-quality, culturally relevant books in particular.

We began by asking friends on Facebook and Twitter to send us books from our recommended reads list. Then, we put together a Donors Choose project for The Crossover, our first community-wide book club. Then, we began to apply for every literacy grant we could find (and while we were rejected by many, it only took a couple of wins to fill our classroom library with great books).

Through it all, we’ve been passionate and persistent, doing a little bit day in and day out, sharing our story on social media, and connecting with others (fellow educators, authors, and community members) who share our passion for helping all students fall in love with reading.

3. “But, what about the standards?”

What do all successful readers have in common? They read a lot!

Whether we’re talking ACT or an end-of-year state assessment, the top performers are generally those who have had the most hours of reading under their belts. Volume matters.

And that’s what I prioritize – inspiring students to see the joy and value of reading and writing, so that they continue to do both more often, not just for a year, but for a lifetime.

To be clear, I still teach the standards (here’s an older post on what my English block looks like), just not in a traditional way with one daily objective written on the board.

Of course, I’m constantly tweaking and refining my classroom structure, but it’s freeing to know that every day, without exception, my students will engage in meaningful reading and writing.

Is it perfect or the only way? Of course not. But, my students are happy to come to class every day. They feel cared for and valued and connected. They’re becoming better readers and writers and human beings, and that’s good enough for me.

4. “But, why are you are always reading those books?”

Here’s who I have zero patience or respect for: the folks who question the “complexity” of YA literature, particularly books featuring black and brown characters. These folks are almost always non-readers. Additionally, most of these folks do not spend meaningful time around black and brown children.

And here’s how I know that: because if they did read books like The Hate U Give, Dear Martin and Long Way Down, and if they did spend time listening to our young readers talk about these books and how they’ve changed their lives, they wouldn’t continue to make it so difficult for teachers to add them to our classrooms and curriculum.

(Side note: shout out to all the authors and educators out there who are working to diversify the canon despite the obstacles.)

There’s more I can and will say on this topic, but I’ll stop there because I’m already approaching 1,500 words and I’ve got Super Bowl appetizers to prepare.

5. Important community perspective

I wanted to relay a few comments that Allison Buzard, the wonderful Equity & Diversity Coordinator for our district, shared following our book club on Friday.

On Twitter, she wrote:

“Some key takeaways for me are: 1. Students can love to read if they can see themselves in the literature, if they can find their story in the plot line, if they have choice in the literature, and if they are engaged in discussion around the text. 2. Adults can love to read, too, if they are challenged to do so, if they can see themselves in the book, and if they can find their story in the story. The adults at my table discussion were as eager to discuss the book as the students. 3. Students are brilliant. I observed students leading peers and adults in discussions about racism and civil rights this morning. 4. Teachers, school and district staff, and community partners can and want to be engaged in schools. And they will engage if given opportunities. 5. We have some amazingly passionate, creative teachers in our district. We need to value and listen to them. They get it!”

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes! Thank you, Allison.

6. Book of the Week

Dear Martin. Obviously.

7. Announcement – Black History Month Challenge

We’re encouraging teachers and students across the country to join NCTE’s effort to read and celebrate literature by African American writers throughout Black History Month. Learn more about the Project LIT Challenge here. AARI Challenge 2

Think that’s it for now. Thanks so much reading, and as always, do not hesitate to reach out with any questions via email (jarred.amato@gmail.com) or Twitter (@jarredamato)! Have a wonderful week.