A Second Chance – For All of Us by Samantha Goodger
This school year, for a variety of reasons, I was moved from my position as the middle school instructional coach up to the high school to work with students in our credit recovery courses. These students have a variety of academic, socio-emotional, and other needs and, honestly, I was unsure where to even start. It seemed like an insurmountable task that I couldn’t possibly tackle. As I started preparing for the position, I realized a lot of my future students were also my former students from Reading Skills courses at the middle school. At first, this filled me with anxiety. Clearly, I had already failed these students as a teacher if they were enrolled in Credit Recovery after working with me. So what would I have to offer them now?
After talking through my anxiety with colleagues, family, and friends, I came to a realization: I had a unique opportunity for a do-over, a second chance to help my students develop skills and strategies for success in school and life. The Credit Recovery course itself is an opportunity for students to gain credits for courses they had previously failed, but I realized it could be a second chance at a lot more than just credits.
When I was a Reading Specialist, I focused on the skills: decoding, making connections, summarizing, and so on. But I never quite got to the “develop a love of (or at least a tolerance for) reading” part of the class. Sure, I did book talks and had a classroom library, but I missed the point of just helping students find books they love and see themselves in.
So here, now, I have the opportunity to help these students find books that speak to them. Here are a few ways I’m working through this “do-over” to develop lifelong readers.
- Make a Comfortable, Inviting Reading Space
I work with an incredibly supportive group of administrators who had the vision of credit recovery being a second chance, not a punishment. With that, we have revamped the physical space for the course. My classroom has a work space where students can work, read, and browse books. Most adult readers know what it’s like to “curl up with a good book”, and I want my students to experience that in my room so they (hopefully) want to replicate the experience in their homes.
- Book Talks, Book Talks, Book Talks
Often, when I asked my students what they are reading or want to read, they have no idea. Plus, with jobs, classwork, and family responsibilities, they don’t have much time or desire to look up a new books to read. So, I am giving regular book talks in class. Once per week, I take about three minutes to introduce a book and read a short selection from it, hoping to pique the interest of a few students. I have also invited other staff members to do book talks in my room so that our students can start to see all of us as lifelong readers.
- Making Reading Public Knowledge
After participating in a workshop with Pernille Ripp, I was inspired to start an Instagram account dedicated to book recommendations. On my account (@goodgerreads), I post a picture of the book with a short description and a few tags. I encourage my students to follow me to see what I’m reading and find a few books they might find appealing. Students can also see my current book on a poster outside my room. This simple sheet of laminated paper challenges me to keep reading, because my students hold me accountable to change up the book regularly. They may not always notice deadlines, but they do notice when I don’t have a current read posted.
- Classroom Library, Sans Checkout System
I’m going to be honest: This was partially laziness. I’ve tried clipboards, cards, sign-outs, everything under the sun to have students check out books. Nothing worked to make sure I get all my books back. So I stopped trying. I realized that the worst case scenario is that a kid doesn’t return a book because he loves it so much. Which is actually the best case scenario anyway. I can’t tell you how many students have said, “You mean, I can just take it?” Yes, please!
5. Represent All My Students
Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, and We Need Diverse Books have helped me realize how important it is to have a classroom library that represents all my students. While setting up my library, I have made a conscientious effort to find books that my students can recognize themselves in. I have students who are parents, really awful home lives, and have never felt like they belong. Because I had to pack up all my books anyway, I took the opportunity to resort my books into bins that I hope will appeal to my students and help them find books quickly. As all classroom libraries are, this is constantly evolving as books circulate and students change. I hope that my students can find themselves in the books from my classroom.
I’ve been thinking about what success looks like for me at the end of the year in my new position. Of course, part of success in Credit Recovery has to do with, well, recovering credits. However, I feel like it has to be more than that. To really help these students be successful in life, I owe them more than nagging them to complete their online courses. I have to inspire them. And my hope is that I inspire them through one of the books they find when they’re with me.
Samantha Goodger is a Credit Recovery Supervisor and Differentiated Learning Coordinator at Greenfield High School in Greenfield, WI. She has also served as a Reading Specialist, Instructional Coach, and English teacher at the secondary level. In her spare time, she enjoys reading (of course), running, and spending time with her husband and three littles. Follow her on Instagram (@gooderreads).