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!

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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.