32 books you should read this summer

top reads 15-16 2

top reads 15-16 1

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End of Year Reading Reflection

As part of my students’ final exam, I asked them to complete an end-of-year reading reflection via Google Forms. The reflection consisted of two parts:

  1. A reading attitude survey with several Likert-scale statements
  2. Six open-response questions

While only one class has responded thus far (the rest will complete it next week), I have been blown away by their ability to accurately and honestly assess their performance as readers and writers this year.

English teachers, feel free to use any or all of these questions with your own students:

READING ATTITUDE SURVEY

  • How much do you like reading? (1-hate it, 2-don’t like it, 3-okay, 4-like it, 5-love it)
  • Since the school year started, I have become more interested in reading. (1 strongly disagree – 5 strongly agree)
  • I feel proud about my reading ability.  (1 strongly disagree – 5 strongly agree)
  • I improved as a reader this year.  (1 strongly disagree – 5 strongly agree)
  • I read more this year than I did in the past.  (1 strongly disagree – 5 strongly agree)
  • Reading is boring to me.  (1 strongly disagree – 5 strongly agree)
  • I enjoy reading more than I did in middle school.  (1 strongly disagree – 5 strongly agree)
  • Reading is hard for me.  (1 strongly disagree – 5 strongly agree)
  • Being able to read well is important.  (1 strongly disagree – 5 strongly agree)
  • What kind of reader do you think you are?  (1 strongly disagree – 5 strongly agree)
  • I will continue to read a lot in the future.  (1 strongly disagree – 5 strongly agree)

OPEN-RESPONSE REFLECTION QUESTIONS 

  1. Of the books you read this year, which one was your favorite, and why? In a well-written paragraph, summarize the book, explain why you liked it, and convince others to read it.
  2. In a well-written paragraph, explain: a) why you read? and b) why reading is important?
  3. In a well-written paragraph, how would you evaluate and rate your performance as a READER this year?
  4. We also did A LOT of writing this year, from essays and poetry to book reviews and character letters. In a well-written paragraph, how would you evaluate your growth and improvement as a WRITER this year?
  5. Finally, in a well-written paragraph, where do you see yourself in the future? What goals and dreams do you have, and how do you plan to achieve them?
  6. Seriously, last question: Is there anything else you would like to add or want Mr. Amato to know?

Ranking Matt de la Peña’s six YA novels

Back in February, I happened to stumble across Matt de la Peña’s first novel, Ball Don’t Lie, and immediately fell in love with the main character, Sticky, a troubled 17-year-old foster kid who found refuge on the basketball court. While our childhoods weren’t quite the same, I saw a lot of myself in Sticky. As a high-school athlete and product of a single-parent household, I spent countless hours playing basketball at the local Boys & Girls Club and YMCA with a colorful cast of characters.

Needless to say, I finished the book in a day or two, and when I did, two thoughts immediately came to mind:

  1. My students are going to love this!
  2. This Matt de la Peña dude is a genius. What else has he written?

And so, over the next few months, I flew through de la Peña’s five other Young Adult novels, starting with We Were Here, which chronicled the heartbreaking journey of Miguel, Rondell, and Mong, three teenagers who are proof that we should never judge a book by its cover.

From there, I read The Living and The Hunted, which were a combination of thriller, mystery, sci-fi, and survival. While the plot seemed a bit far-fetched, I still found myself cheering wholeheartedly for Shy, the lovable protagonist, and staying up late to see how the story would end.

Next up was Mexican Whiteboy, which was a home run. Right off the bat, I connected with Danny, a teenage baseball player in search of his voice and identity. There’s no question that de la Pena hit it out of the park with this one (okay, that was my last bad baseball idiom, I promise).

This week, I finished the complex and powerful I Will Save You. While the novel took a bit longer to get into, the second half, and particularly the surprise ending, left me speechless.

As I tweeted the other day, attempting to rank de la Peña’s six books is like trying to rank ice cream flavors. They’re all amazing. Still, I wanted to give it a shot.

Before I could do that, however, I needed to come up with some sort of rating system beyond the traditional 1 to 5 stars. (If I used that scale, they would all receive 5s). After careful thought and deliberation, here’s what I came up with:

Mr. Amato’s super-scientific 30-point scale for rating books

  • Was the book so captivating that I couldn’t put it down? That’s the “I couldn’t eat, sleep, or check my phone until I finished it” factor (1-10 pts).
  • How badly was I rooting for the main character to succeed? That’s the “I wish the protagonist was real, so we could be friends and hang out all the time” factor (1-10 pts).
  • In one year, or ten years from now, will I still remember this book? That’s the “this book changed my life” factor (1-10 pts).

With those three questions in mind, here is how I ranked de la Peña’s six YA novels:

1.  Ball Don’t Lie

Ball Don't Lie.png

“I couldn’t eat, sleep, or check my phone until I finished it” factor: 10

“I wish the protagonist was real, so we could be friends and hang out all the time” factor: 9.5

“This book changed my life” factor: 9

TOTAL POINTS: 28.5

RATIONALE: Maybe it’s because I read this one first, or maybe it’s because Sticky is such a unique character that we don’t find often enough in literature, but either way, Ball Don’t Lie is well-deserving of the top spot in these rankings. I’m already looking forward to re-reading it.

2. We Were Here

We Were Here.png

“I couldn’t eat, sleep, or check my phone until I finished it” factor: 9

“I wish the protagonist was real, so we could be friends and hang out all the time” factor: 10

“This book changed my life” factor: 9

TOTAL POINTS: 28

RATIONALE: I asked one of my students, Chris, to write this review since he recently read We Were Here and here’s what he had to say: “My mom had to bring dinner to my room because I wanted to keep reading it. It was definitely one of the best books I’ve ever read.”

3. Mexican Whiteboy

Mexican Whiteboy

“I couldn’t eat, sleep, or check my phone until I finished it” factor: 8.5

“I wish the protagonist was real, so we could be friends and hang out all the time” factor: 9.5

“This book changed my life” factor: 8.5

RATIONALE: Don’t let the title fool you: readers from any background will love this book. I just wish I could have played baseball with Danny and Uno growing up.

TOTAL POINTS: 26

4. The Hunted

The Hunted.png

“I couldn’t eat, sleep, or check my phone until I finished it” factor: 9

“I wish the protagonist was real, so we could be friends and hang out all the time” factor: 9

“This book changed my life” factor: 7

TOTAL POINTS: 25

RATIONALE: I don’t usually like sequels as much as the originals, but The Hunted was like a fast-paced action movie that I couldn’t put down.

5. The Living

The Living.png

“I couldn’t eat, sleep, or check my phone until I finished it” factor: 8

“I wish the protagonist was real, so we could be friends and hang out all the time” factor: 9

“This book changed my life” factor: 7

TOTAL POINTS: 24

RATIONALE: Not what I expected after reading de la Pena’s other novels, but nonetheless highly entertaining.

6. I Will Save You

I Will Save You.png

“I couldn’t eat, sleep, or check my phone until I finished it” factor: 7

“I wish the protagonist was real, so we could be friends and hang out all the time” factor: 7

“This book changed my life” factor: 8

TOTAL POINTS: 22

RATIONALE: While the ending blew me away, and I appreciated the complexity of Kidd, the main character, I had a difficult time getting into a groove with this one.

Bottom line: If you’re an English teacher looking to read or recommend novels to late middle or high school students, particularly your boys who struggle to find books that interest them, you can’t go wrong with anything by Matt de la Peña.

As de la Peña wrote in this powerful essay on the power of reading:

Today when I write my own novels, I try to craft the best possible stories, and I certainly aim to be entertaining, but I’m also conscious of the powerful function literature can serve — especially in the lives of kids growing up the way I did. My goal as a writer is to recede into the background, allowing readers to fully participate. I want them to be able to watch the characters and listen to conversations and be free to form judgments of their own. I believe it’s in this space that young readers acquire experience with complex emotions like empathy and sensitivity, which makes them more likely to be in tune with emotional nuance out in the real world.

I couldn’t agree more.

Students encourage others to take unplugged challenge

Last Friday, Maplewood high school freshmen gathered to enjoy some breakfast and watch the screening of our Panthers Unplugged mini-documentary. Beforehand, however, I asked them to reflect on their experience and offer advice to teachers and students around the country who may be considering a similar challenge.

Their answers confirmed what I had already suspected: that all students (and adults, for that matter) should unplug from technology periodically.

If you’re a teacher looking to organize an unplugged challenge next year, or simply want to see how teenagers felt about giving up their cell phones for 24 hours, check out my students’ responses below:

What did you learn from the Panthers Unplugged experience?unplugged pic

“I learned that I can go 24 hours without my cell phone.”

“I learned that everything doesn’t have to be about technology. There are more things to do in life like read books and go outside with friends.”

“You focus better without technology.”

“You can communicate with friends and family more easily.”

“I learned that I don’t need my cell phone to survive.”

“Without your phone, you can experience a lot more.”

“Life can be more relaxing without my phone. You don’t have to worry about who’s texting you. You have the whole day to yourself.”

“I learned that some people can live without their phone and some people can’t.”

“Being away from your phone let me do other things that I normally wouldn’t do.”

“I don’t need my phone to have fun.”

“I learned that our phones have taken over our lives.”

Why do you think should other students (at Maplewood and around the country) should participate in a similar challenge?

“They will learn a lot about themselves by doing it.”

“To find out what your other interests are.”

“If different schools come together and give their electronics away, it could become a tradition.”

“To see if they can get through a day without it.”

“I think it would be good for everybody to try unplugging at least once.”

“To see how much easier it is to concentrate without your phone.”

“To have better communication skills with others.”

“Because it’s a great challenge to participate in. It helps you interact more with your peers and family.”

“To see if you have an addiction to your phone.”

“It will give them an opportunity to see that they don’t need a phone to function.”

“Without a phone, you can get a lot of stuff done.”

“It will benefit them and show them that technology is not needed.”

“To see that you don’t need a phone to have fun with friends and family.”

“I think people should try it because you never know what you can find out about yourself.”

Would you do it again next year? Why, or why not?unplugged pic 3

“Yes, because it was certainly relaxing and kept my mind off of technology.”

“Yes, because it has taught me a lot of lessons.”

“Yes, because I would like to get more people to do it with me.”

“Yes. When I did it I thought it was going to be hard, but I started hanging with my family, and it wasn’t so bad.”

“Yes, because my mom thinks I focus more without a phone, and I get more work done.”

“Yes, because I got more sleep when I did the challenge.”

“Yes, because it allowed me to see that I can do other things than be on the phone.”

“I would because it made me realize that the world is a much bigger place without your phone all the time.”

 “Yes, because I feel like it was very beneficial experience.”

“Yes, because it helped me focus a little more and be active.”

“Yes, because I got to sleep earlier.”

“No, because it was hard without my phone.”

What could Mr. Amato & Mrs. Cook do differently next year to make the experience better?

“Ask others beside freshmen to unplug.”

“Maybe try a week.”

“Make it longer.”

“I think you should do it for two days or longer so it can really be a challenge.”

“I think it was cool and fun the way it was. Everyone had positive things to say about it.”

“Try to set it for a longer time and see how people react to it.”

“They could probably extend the time but it was kind of hard to contact my friends and family when I wasn’t around them.”

“Extend it to 48 hours.”

“Make it longer, like 3 days.”

How did the unplugged challenge cause you to change your cell phone & social media habits this year, if at all?

“It made me change my habits because I got to spend more time with my family, especially my little sister. I did more homework, and I just had more fun. I wasn’t even worried about my phone.”

“Honestly, it didn’t change much. I am still close with it.”

“Nothing changed.”

“I realized that there is nothing but trouble on social media, and that everyone sees everything that you do, which isn’t good.”

“I don’t feel the need to be on my phone all the time because I have work to do.”

“None, because the same night I got my phone back, I stayed up until 1:00 in the morning.”

“I don’t go on social media as much. I try to go outside.”

“It helped me put my phone down and spend my time wisely.”

“Not at all.”

“It changed me a little bit. Sometimes I put my phone away and do other things.”

“I’ve been way more active and I’ve also been on my phone less than normal.”

 Based on their feedback, I plan to organize another unplugged event next year. If you are a teacher of middle or high school students, I’d love for you to join us!

Top 7 challenges students face as readers

As an English teacher, I believe there is tremendous power in having students reflect periodically on their own reading and writing habits.

For example, I recently asked students to answer the following questions after our 25 minutes of independent reading:

  • Do you think you have improved as a reader this year? Why, or why not?
  • Do you enjoy reading more now than you did in the past? Explain.
  • How often do you read?
  • What challenges do you face as a reader?
  • What will you do to overcome these challenges?
  • What can Mr. Amato do to help you succeed as a reader?
  • In your opinion, why is reading important?

Because of their honest feedback, I have already been able to develop mini-lessons and facilitate one-on-one and whole-class conversations around several of the themes that emerged.JS read

For example, it’s important that as teachers, we understand why many students aren’t reading as much as we (or they) would like, and then work with them to develop solutions.

Therefore, in this post, I am going to share the top 7 challenges students face as readers, according to a survey of approximately 100 ninth-graders at Maplewood High School in Nashville, TN.

#1. Cell phone addiction. This should come as no surprise, especially if you read my recent post. For the majority of today’s teenagers, cell phone addiction is a serious problem. One student said, “I stay on my phone 24/7,” while another added that “whenever I see a message on my phone, I have to answer it.” If students keep their phones in sight while reading, it’s virtually impossible for them to finish a page without feeling the urge to check for a text message, Instagram like, or Snapchat.

#2. Short attention span. Several students reported that they have trouble staying focused on one task for a long period time. For example, one student said, “I get off task easily and get into something else,” while another said simply, “My attention span is kind of low.” There is no question that cell phone addiction contributes to their lack of focus, and they certainly aren’t alone in becoming more distracted. A recent study found that the average attention span of a human is down to just eight seconds, or one second less than that of a goldfish.

#3. Responsibilities at home. I am constantly amazed by the strength and maturity of my students. One student said, “I have to help my little brother do his work, and help my mom around the house,” while several others also mentioned that they are on babysitting duty after school. I was really impressed with one student who managed to come up with a solution to her problem. “I have to babysit, so I’ve started to let my niece read while I read also,” she said. How awesome is that?!

#4. Extracurricular activities. From sports to band practice to work, a lot of our students are extremely busy after school, which affects their ability to read as often as they’d like. “When I come from practice, I usually eat dinner and go to bed,” said one student-athlete. “During track season, I can’t read as much,” said another. “I’ll catch up over the summer though.”

#5. Lack of interest. If students are going to put away their smartphone and take out a book, they certainly want to read something that they enjoy. Unfortunately, some students reported that they have a hard time finding books that interest them.

#6. Lack of motivation. I appreciated how honest a few students were about their lack of motivation to read. In fact, one student wrote, “The only obstacle I have is me wanting to read.” Another stated, “I don’t push myself to pick up a book and start reading.”

#7. No quiet places to read at home. Several students mentioned the fact that their home isn’t conducive for reading. One student said, “There’s not a lot of quiet places to read at home, so I can’t read as much as I’d like.” Another cited the “loudness at my house,” while a third said, “I never have time and when I do I never have a quiet place to read.”

One of my biggest takeaways from these reflections is that we, as English teachers, can help students overcome several of these challenges. In fact, I believe we have a responsibility to create a quiet and comfortable reading environment in our classrooms. We must also give our students consistent time to read in class without any distractions because our classroom may be the only place where they can.MP read

Once students get into a reading routine (where they know their cell phone must be put away and that nobody is talking), their attention span, reading stamina, and attitude toward reading all improve dramatically.

Finally, in order to address reasons #5 and #6, English teachers have to be motivators and encouragers. We also have to be avid readers ourselves in order to make recommendations and prove to our reluctant readers that not all books are boring. They just haven’t found the right one yet. But, that’s a post for another day…

NOTE: In the comments or on Twitter (@jarredamato), I’d love to hear what other challenges you and your students face as readers!

Sorry, Zuckerberg: Reading still more fun than Facebook

The recent New York Times article, “Facebook has 50 minutes of your time each day. It wants more,” referenced a few notable statistics:

  • Mark Zuckerberg’s company reported that users spend an average of 50 minutes on its Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger platforms, which is up from 40 minutes in 2014.
  • In comparison, people spend an average of 2.8 hours per day watching TV/movies, 1.07 hours eating/drinking, 19 minutes reading, and 17 minutes participating in a sport/exercising.
  • Younger viewers (ages 18-34) spend just 47 percent of their viewing time on television screens compared  to 40 percent on mobile devices.

Of course, the fact that people of all ages are becoming more and more attached to technology and social media should come as little surprise. If we’re being honest, it’s not just kids who have stopped reading; it’s everyone.

However, I would argue that the effects of this addiction could be particularly harmful for our young people who have not yet developed essential literacy and communication skills.

My goal and my passion, then, is to help students realize the benefits of putting their phone down for an hour or two to read a book, exercise, or simply converse face-to-face with friends and family. Beyond our official Panthers Unplugged event, where I joined 42 Maplewood freshmen in giving up our cell phones for 24 hours, my students and I continue to read about and discuss the challenges of growing up in a digital age.

Consider this study: researchers surveyed 753 middle and high school students and found that those who spent more than two hours a day on social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter were more likely to report distress, poor mental health and even suicidal thoughts.

Or this one: researchers surveyed 467 teenagers and found that social media use, especially at night, along with the “emotional investment in social networking interactions,” resulted in “poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety.”

As a teacher, I know that I can’t control what time students go to bed, or monitor their online social media use at home, but here’s what I can do: encourage them to read more!

Growing up, I read all the time, but books faced limited competition back then. There was no Vine to distract me from R.L. Stine, and no YouTube videos to keep me from finishing another Matt Christopher or Hardy Boys novel. I didn’t have the urge to check my phone every 30 seconds for a new text or Instagram like.

With that said, would I have still become an avid reader (and eventually, an English teacher) if I grew up in today’s generation? I’m not so sure.

reading pic outside
If we want students to spend more time reading, we have to give them choice.

And that brings me back to the main point of this post: as teachers and adults, we have an obligation to sell our students on the joy of reading. We can’t assume that students will see the inherent value in it, or that they will have enough willpower to turn off their phones on their own.

Instead, we have to show them. We need to talk about books with the same passion and excitement that others talk about playoff basketball games or TV shows. We need to give students time, day in and day out, to get lost in fictional worlds with characters they root for and relate to.

When we do, students begin to realize that Sherman Alexie’s novel is funnier than any Instagram meme, and that Sharon Draper’s books are far more entertaining than any Snapchat story.

That’s why, despite the troubling trends, my students give me hope. Sure, they’re glued to their smartphones in the hallway, cafeteria, and, unfortunately, even in some classes. But, walk into Room 220, and for the first 25 to 30 minutes of every period, you will find their eyes glued to something else: a book of their choice.

Sorry, Zuckerberg. My students are proof that, in an era where even grandparents know how to update a Facebook status, reading the right book is still more enjoyable than anything you can do on the iPhone.

And I’m not going to let them forget that.

Why schools must create a culture of reading

NOTE: This post was originally published by Dr. Ryan B. Jackson on The Underdog’s Advocate.

As a high school English teacher, I constantly find myself creating analogies to help my students comprehend confusing concepts. (I’m also a sucker for alliteration, but that’s beside the point).

And so, during a recent conference with a student, a member of the Maplewood freshman football team, and his father, a former athlete himself, I attempted to convey the importance of reading in terms they would understand.

“Reading is a lot like exercising,” I began. “You see, the more you work out and lift weights, the stronger you become. The more you run, the faster you get.”

I could tell my hook had worked.

“Well, the same is true with reading. The more you read, the better you get at it.”

Heads nodded in agreement.

“So, that’s why I’m pushing your son to read so much in class and at home. He’s already improved his reading level by more than a year since August. But, we’ve still got work to do.”

The father shook my hand, thanked me for my passion and support, and promised that his son would be reading for at least twenty minutes each night.

As educators and non-educators alike discuss ways to improve our students’ reading scores, I want to remind us that sometimes the best solutions are, in fact, the simplest. There is no magic formula, special sauce, or computer program that will turn our reluctant, struggling readers into confident, proficient ones.

Instead, it requires that we trust and embrace the process of developing and nurturing lifelong readers. If teachers and leaders commit to creating a culture of reading in their schools, the results will inevitably follow. And by results, I’m not just talking test scores, although those will improve too. Research shows that students who identify as readers are significantly happier, less stressed, more empathetic, and ultimately far more prepared to succeed in this crazy thing we call life.

Before I dig deeper, I want to pause for a pop-quiz. (Don’t panic; there are no wrong answers!)

Here’s my question: How many of the following statements do you agree with?

1. I consider myself a “reader” and see the immense value in reading.

2. I read a variety of texts and for a variety of purposes.

3. As such, I am reading something all the time.

4. I generally only read about things that I deem interesting or worthwhile.

5. I enjoy sharing and discussing what I read with friends and colleagues.

6. I loved to read, and read a lot, during my childhood.

7. I consider reading a hobby of mine.

Now, I’m going to assume that you answered “yes” to the majority of the above statements. In fact, I’d bet that a lot of you, like me, identified with all seven.

However, what if we asked today’s students the same questions? How many would they agree with? For far too many, the answer would be one or two, if any. And through no fault of their own.

There’s no question that selling today’s students (and adults, for that matter) on books is harder than it’s ever been. We’re up against a lot of competition, most notably from the smartphone.

However, rather than admitting defeat to the likes of Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Netflix, and Xbox360, educators have a responsibility to show students that reading can be far more enjoyable, and beneficial, than any iPhone app or video game.

When my ninth graders unplugged from technology for 24 hours last semester, the results were overwhelmingly positive. Hours usually spent in front of screens were replaced with exercise, sleep, family time, and yes, even reading.

Our #PanthersUnplugged event was just one small way we are working to create a culture of reading at Maplewood High School. The first annual reading marathon, in which more than 40 students and teachers read consecutively from 2:30 to 10:30 (with small breaks for snacks and prizes every hour) on a Friday evening, was another.

Most of the work, however, is happening inside classrooms day in and day out. Our long-term goal is for all 1,000+ students to self-identify as readers, and to see the lifelong value in reading. We want all students to leave high school with not only the ability to read well, but also with the confidence and desire to one day read to their future children before bed each night.

Of course, we have a lot of work to get there. Approximately 90% of our freshmen entered high school reading below grade level, with nearly 60% reading at a sixth-grade level or lower. There are many reasons for this tragedy, but here’s a big one: too many schools have taken the joy out of reading. We’ve turned off our skilled readers, and done nothing to encourage our struggling ones.

Let me ask you this: How many of you would enjoy coming to school and being told that your only reading would be a passage from a TCAP prep book? And when you finished reading it (or maybe just skimming it, since that’s what your teacher told you to do), you got the privilege of answering biased multiple-choice questions?

Or, how about being told that the only novel you could read was the one that your teacher picked out because he read it as a kid? Never mind that it’s above your reading level and completely irrelevant to your life. And, since you’re not allowed to take the books home, you have to listen to your teacher read aloud one chapter a day while the fidgety kids in class constantly interrupt him? If you’re lucky, you’ll get through one book a quarter.

Should it be any surprise, then, that so many of our students have grown to hate reading? Years of “teaching to the test” and “drill and kill” have killed any enthusiasm they may have had. Furthermore, because students are now so turned off to reading, their reading level has remained stagnant, and often times, regressed.

Therefore, our first step is to earn back our students’ trust. We have to prove to them that not all reading is bad, and that starts with two things: time and choice.

Students need to read independently for at least 20 to 30 minutes every day, with no exceptions. In the beginning, teachers may start with 10 minutes (the same way you would start by running a mile before trying to run a marathon), and then add time as students’ reading stamina increases. Without this consistency, reading will never become a habit.

Students also need to have choice in what they read during this time if we want to increase their motivation. Otherwise, students will still see reading as a chore, not a hobby. Additionally, if we assign one book to all, skilled readers will find ways to skim or Sparknote it, while struggling readers will have trouble accessing it at all.

Therefore, as teachers, our focus should be on connecting students with books they don’t want to put down. Depending on their interests and passions (as well as their reading level), that book is going to be different for each student.

In order to get students excited about reading, here are five other tips for teachers of all grade levels:

* Be a reading role model. How can we expect students to love and appreciate reading if their teachers don’t? It’s essential that teachers practice what they preach. We should be reading alongside students, not sitting at our desk grading papers or working on our laptop. When we’re not reading a book ourselves, we should be conferencing with students about their books, making recommendations, and checking in on students’ progress. Every day should be a celebration of literature.

* Create a nurturing reading environment in your classroom. This includes an accessible and inviting library, absolute silence, appropriate lighting, and comfortable seating (if students read better on the floor, let them). If we treat reading time as sacred, students will too.

* Help students set personalized reading goals. Reading should not be a competition. However, most students respond well to a personal goal, whether it’s to read a certain number books or words, improve their reading level by a certain number of grades, or finish an entire series by the same author. Teachers should help students set these goals, and then check in frequently with them about their progress.

* Celebrate reading. We glorify athletes with pep rallies, yet our readers tend to walk through the halls virtually unnoticed. That needs to change. We have to be better about acknowledging and appreciating these students. Often times the only rewards that are needed are more books and more time to read.

* Be patient and positive. Remember that it’s a marathon, not sprint, and that it’s never too late for a student to become a reader. Continue to put good books in their hands, and eventually one will stick.

To be clear, 30 minutes of choice independent reading per day will not solve our literacy problem by itself. There are other instructional strategies that schools must implement in order to significantly improve students’ reading and writing abilities, but I believe that this is a great (and cost-effective) place to start.

In closing, I hope this post sparks dialogue in your school, community, or household. I would also love to hear your thoughts and feedback, whether it’s through Twitter (@jarredamato), email (jarred.amato@mnps.org), or in person here in Nashville, Tennessee. Happy reading!