Learn more about Project LIT Community in Human Restoration Project podcast

I recently had the opportunity to join the Human Restoration Project Podcast and chat with host Chris McNutt about a wide range of topics, including book access, tips for fellow English teachers, and the growth of Project LIT Community. You can listen to the entire podcast here. I would love to hear your thoughts on our conversation!

I also wanted to capture the highlights of the interview below, particularly for those who may not be podcast fans just yet! However, it’s worth mentioning that the following questions & answers are not transcribed from our conversation, but my revised reflections (although there is plenty of overlap between the two).

ALL 17-18 and 18-19

What has drawn you to build the Project LIT Community?

I believe wholeheartedly that every child deserves to grow up around great books. And unfortunately, we know that’s not the case for many of our students, including my own here at Maplewood High School. Project LIT Community began as a class project in the fall of 2016 after my students & I read about book deserts. From that first conversation, we’ve been committed and passionate about not only increasing book access, but also about promoting a love of reading in Nashville and communities across the country.

What are your major goals today as the Project LIT Community has expanded?

The ultimate goal is to build readers and leaders in every school and community. How do we do that? Continue to grow our grassroots literacy movement by connecting & collaborating with passionate educators who already believe in the power of books, who already believe that ALL of their students should see themselves in literature, who already have a great reading culture in their classroom. Let’s work together to empower our students and provide them with as many positive literacy and life experiences as possible. Not get caught up in numbers or metrics, and instead just focus on continuing this work.

It’s evident from your writings that you’re very successful in encouraging students to read – and actually enjoy reading – in your classroom. Often, school has detrimental effects for a love and reading and doesn’t promote literacy even into adulthood. What strategies have you used to foster a love of reading?

First and foremost, I’m a reader. Every one of my students will tell you that, and I believe that as teachers, our passion is contagious. Because I’m always reading, it’s easy for me to match students with books that I think they’ll enjoy. So yeah, for the new teachers out there, know your books and know your kids.

Second, I’m serious about book access, and access to high quality, culturally relevant books in particular. We’ve worked really hard to build an awesome classroom library that values & affirms all of our students. Students are far more likely to love a book when they can see themselves in it. And when they have an opportunity to Skype with or meet the author who wrote it. And when they have a chance to talk about that book and celebrate that book with their classmates & community and even other students around the world.

Finally, it’s essential that we give students choice in what they read and consistent time to read. Community is also huge. Reading is too often a solitary experience, and in our classroom & through our Project LIT Book Club, we try to make it a shared one, a fun one.

For someone who is looking to build their own classroom libraries, what suggestions do you have? I know from experience that while well-intentioned, many classroom libraries tend to be “leftover books” that no one seemingly wants to read.

Great question! I recently wrote a blog post about this, so I’d love to offer a few tips.

1. Focus on quality, not quantity. If the books aren’t going to be read, don’t bother buying them. So, work with your students to develop a list of recommend reads & then share it widely on social media (Twitter, Facebook, IG).

2. Make it easy for people to donate! (Amazon Wishlist, Donors Choose, book drives, etc.)

3. Let adults hear from your students! Videos, letters, pictures, adults want to know where their money is going.

4. Be on the lookout for local & national grants.

5. Check out the First Book Marketplace, phenomenal organization that gets books to kids.

6. Join Project LIT Community! We don’t have the $ (yet) to give you books, but we have resources & checklists to help you get started.

7. If you and your students are passionate & persistent, it will happen. Enjoy that process!

I think that it’s incredibly important that everyone recognizes that literacy is not limited to English or Social Studies classes – how do you recommend that mathematics, science, or other electives go about incorporating literacy in their classrooms, while not forcing texts that may be detrimental to one’s love of reading?

One, I always encourage science & social studies teachers to check out Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week. In order for students to grow as readers & writers, we have to increase the volume of reading & writing they do, and the AoW is a great way to help with that.

Second, I wish that ALL adults in a school talked to students about what they’re reading. Wait a minute, our math teacher is reading The Hate U Give this week? Oh, and our assistant principal loved Long Way Down, too? Our students can never have enough adult reading role models.

In a past podcast, we spoke to Dr. Molly Ness – a researcher and teacher in the literacy field – and we spoke fairly extensively on the negative impact of “reading rewards” that many library and school systems offer (e.g. “read x books, receive x pizzas.”) Specifically, “Accelerated Reader” has been documented to diminish a love of reading past elementary school. What is your opinion on reading rewards programs?

I think the question to ask is: Why do so many teachers & schools feel like they need these programs? A lot of times there’s this fear that if we don’t hold students “accountable,” we’ll never know if they’re actually reading. And that’s not just true.

I also know if that we’d all be better off if we took the money that we spent on AR and other programs and just bought great books instead.

Lastly, if teachers don’t know how to get their students excited about reading without these programs or extrinsic rewards, then our schools and districts have to offer more coaching & support. Let’s show teachers what it looks like to build a strong reading culture. Let’s help them fund their classroom libraries. Let’s eliminate the excessive testing. Let’s get rid of the scripted curriculum. Let’s listen to our students & help our teachers meet their needs as readers, as writers, as human beings.

Do you utilize silent reading time in your classroom? Do you believe that silent reading time (where students are given a choice of what to read, simply for pleasure) should go beyond an English classroom?

We begin every class period with 15, 20, 25 minutes of silent reading time. No exceptions. And for many of our students, it’s the best part of their day.

I recently had a student tell me, “I’m grateful for you, Mr. Amato, because without you, I’d only be reading Instagram posts.” Our students want & deserve time to read. And what, in our 7-hour school day, we can’t carve out 20 or 30 minutes for reading time? What’s more important than that?

If we don’t give students time to read during the school day, many of them will simply not read at all. For a lot of valid reasons that we could get into. I don’t understand why so many adults are okay with that.

Do you foresee (or know of) any dangers of standardized testing prep. and its effects on a love of reading? Specifically, I’m talking about “deep-reading” of text and other complex analysis that while well-intentioned to understand text, can drive students away from reading for the sake of reading.

Absolutely. I don’t think we talk about text selection enough. Often times we call a text “complex” or “rigorous” or “challenging,” or “grade appropriate,” but go into that English class and watch who’s doing all the work. The teacher! How are the students responding? Are they asleep? Acting out? Shutting down? Copying notes from the teacher? From their friend?

A lot of lesson and unit plans look good on paper. And companies make a lot of money selling scripted curriculum. But, does it work? Are students engaged? Are teachers engaged?

In my experience, the best readers read all the time. There’s no magic set of texts that will turn a non-reader into a proficient one.

Also, I think it’s interesting what books and texts our schools & districts consider “complex” or worthy of including in our curriculum. There’s this elitism, and often times, racism, that hurts our children, especially our children of color. And I love that our Project LIT family is serious about challenging the status quo.

Do you believe that there is a connection between declining reading rates and how we teach students how to read?

I don’t think I’m smart enough to answer that question, but I will say that many of our students have the ability to read; they just don’t read enough. They reach middle school, high school, and they stop reading altogether. And our schools are a big reason why. There’s this sense that an English classroom has to look a certain way, that students have to read a certain set of texts, even though we know that most students aren’t enjoying it. Shoot, most of them are faking their way through it anyways. So yes, I think we absolutely need to rethink what an English classroom looks like and how we teach students to read and interact with texts, especially in the middle & upper grades.

Often when we talk about the decline of reading in our school systems, the innate response is that the growth of social media, video games (especially Fortnite), and television are to blame for a loss of passionate readers. Do you believe that this is the case?

Look, there are absolutely more options for today’s teenagers! They’re looking not only for entertainment, but for that connection to others. And that’s why social media & even Fortnite are so popular. As adults, let’s stop blaming the smartphone & criticizing the younger generation (especially since so many of us are guilty of it, too). What we need to realize is that in order for a young person to a pick a book over Fortnite, it has to be good! It has to be relevant. It has to matter. And in my experience, if we give students books by Jason Reynolds & Kwame Alexander and Nic Stone and Angie Thomas, they will put down their phone and read. And thank you for it!

Also, I think we have to think about how students are responding to the texts. If they know that after they read a book, all they’re going to do is take a test or write an essay that no one will ever read, why bother? But if they’re going to be able to take about it, and write poetry, and create videos, and artwork, they’ll see the relevance, the purpose, the entertainment.

What is one program or initiative that you believe every single school in the United States should adopt tomorrow?

I will say Project LIT Community. I’m so grateful for our group of educators and students and I’m inspired by all of them daily. I think that our work is just beginning, and that there is tremendous strength in numbers. We just released our 2018-19 book list and it is incredible! 12 middle grade & 13 young adult titles that we think everybody should read. We’re so excited that hundreds of schools across the country, the Bronx, D.C., Denver, St. Louis, LA, Nashville, Chicago, you name it – will be able to celebrate and discuss these books next year.

What I love about Project LIT Community is that it’s not just about reading. It’s also about creating that sense of belonging for kids and adults. Allowing them to utilize their skills and their passions, empowering them as leaders in our schools and communities.

Advertisements

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.

10

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!

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.

10
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

1
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!

2
Thanks to Lipscomb for making our students feel like VIP!
4
Discuss Long Way Down and learn more about college life? Win-win!

 

 

 

 

 

5
Can we talk about that ending?!

9:15-10:00 am

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

6
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!

7
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…

8
The faces in the crowd say it all!

11:15-11:30 am

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

9
Real men read.
11
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.

13

There are dozens more, just like this one!

16

 

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?

14

  • 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!