A Free Gift: No Strings Attached By Patrick Andrus

While at a service recently I listened to a meaningful message entitled “A Free Gift:  No Strings Attached.”  As I was taking in the words, it struck me that as a reader teacher this title fits perfectly with what I do on a daily basis.

I present my students with a free gift on a regular basis.  This gift is given with no strings attached.  Never having thought of it in these terms, it was quite enlightening and refreshing.

One of the greatest pleasures I have as a teacher is to share book titles with my students.  It has become the foundation of my classroom.  Everything we do during the day revolves around books, both new and old, authors, and leading a reading life.  Each year I become more and more vested in this goal of creating “Wild Readers,” a new term that I learned from Donalyn Miller during her workshop here in the Twin Cities.

My concern in the “old days” use to be about my students reading a text, taking a quiz and/or test about it, and recording a score.  It actually scares me a bit to think I use to teach this way.  How times, and methods, have changed.  The focus now in my classroom is to give these gifts to my students and make sure there are no strings attached.

When I think about our school day there are many gifts that are passed on to my students.  We open our school day with a picture book.  I share this book with the students, leave it on the book tray, and know readers will revisit the book.

I’ve created the ultimate gift via a bulletin board in the classroom.  Once a title has been “book talked,” a sheet goes on the board with the picture and title of the book.  Readers sign their name to the sheet when (and if) they finish the book.  The bulletin boards are growing and I’m a bit worried we are going to run out of room.  The community building this creates among the readers is quite powerful.

The gift of reading is also given to my students on a monthly basis.  Years ago after watching Oprah create her book club on her television show; I thought “I could do that in my classroom.”  Thus came the “Breakfast with Books” book club.  Looking back on a teaching career of twenty-three years, this book club has definitely become a highlight for both my readers I’ve come across and myself.

Book Club announcement day is a major deal.  I hang the secret “book bag” in the front of the room on the Monday before the Friday announcement.  Each day I talk about the upcoming news of a new book.  By Friday, the excitement is palpable.  As I pull the book out of the bag, the kids are actually cheering about the new title.  I must admit, it is a bit like channeling Oprah on a much smaller scale.  The readers have about a month to read the book and be ready to discuss it on book club day.  We also have members bring in breakfast treats to share with the group.

There are no quizzes on book club day, there are no tests given, and there are no projects expected.  We sit, we eat, and we talk about the book.  Isn’t this what a true book club is all about?  I invite students to give their opinions, feelings, and thoughts about the book.  It doesn’t matter to me if they enjoyed the book or didn’t.  All voices are heard!

It never occurred to me that what I have been doing is presenting gifts to my students and giving these gifts with no strings attached.  I want them to read the picture book again.  I want them to join as many “club books” during the year as they can.  I want them to participate in as many “Breakfast with Books” as they can.  The greatest thing about these gifts is that there are no strings attached.


Patrick Andrus is a fourth grade teacher at Prairie View Elementary School in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  He has had twenty-three years of wonderfully liberating experiences teaching young children.  The biggest gift he gives his students is the gift of words, stories, and incredible characters.  It was about a year and a half ago that he took the risk to enter the world of Twitter, his own blog, and connecting with the incredible members of this book club. You can follow him on Twitter @patrickontwit and his blog http://readwonder.blogspot.com/.