January 08

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Be the Example by Sarah Krajewski

“Mommy, can we go have a picnic now? Mommy? Hello, Mommy!” I swear I wasn’t intentionally ignoring my daughter, but she caught me in the zone. You know exactly which “zone” I’m talking about: that place you go when a book is so enthralling that the rest of your world disappears. That’s where I was with Jason Reynolds’s latest masterpiece, Long Way Down, one day last summer when my daughter found me. She knows, however, that I enter the reading zone quite often, so instead of throwing a temper tantrum, she pulled her bean bag chair over next to me, grabbed an Elephant & Piggie book off the shelf, and did what I was doing. I didn’t have to ask, beg, or plead. At four years old, she already enjoyed reading.

As a parent, I am always careful about what I’m doing in front of my children, for I know they see everything. Often times, I purposely place myself near my son and daughter and pick up a book, hoping they will see what I am doing and ask what I’m reading. Four years ago, I started an advent book calendar that has now become a much-loved holiday tradition. My kids look forward to opening a new book each night and reading it together as a family. Two summers ago, I saved up and bought a Little Free Library for our front yard. We live on a corner lot and have a bus stop right there. It was a perfect spot! I knew my children would enjoy helping me keep it organized, finding new books for it, and recommending books to their friends. And they have. They see the value in reading and love a wide variety of books.

As a teacher, I know that I can have the same kind of effect on my 9th graders. Every year I hear the same comments during the first week of school: “Miss, sorry, but I don’t read,” or “No offense, but I’m just not a reader.” I take it all in stride, for they are now in a new environment where anything is possible. Each new year I reflect on what worked in the previous years and try new ideas I learn from my PLN (professional learning network). Choice reading begins on Day One and goes throughout the entire year. Book talks soon become the norm. 14 bookshelves line the walls with popular titles. A display by the television shows what my co-teacher and I are currently reading. We have a “reading wall” that shows past reads and recommendations. My email signature contains a current favorite for parents to see. By five weeks in, some students are already hooked.

As the year progresses, students begin to notice that I don’t just promote books, but I read many of them too. I book talk favorites, but explain when I have struggles and slumps too. I ask students for their recommendations, and choose titles my reluctant readers are trying so we can chat frequently about our progress. As I make my reading life known, slowly but surely more gains are made.

By midyear, my students begin to see that their reading lives are changing for the better. Through conferences like NCTE and ALAN, DonorsChoose projects, and, yes, a lot of my own money, I acquire new titles that will suck my students in. When I get the chance to meet authors, I bring back at least one signed book for someone who just needed to know I was thinking of them. I purchase audiobooks of popular titles. By this time, I know what they’ll try. I know because I constantly ask. I constantly confer. My students and I get to know one another, and as my readers grow, I grow to know what they love. Soon we create various projects, like book shirts, that promote our favorite titles to classmates. We assess our growth as readers by writing reading ladders. Progress is made.

When the end of the school year arrives, we aim for one big project that promotes reading within the school and the community. Two years ago, we added two Little Free Libraries within the district, and we will be adding another one this June. Last year I applied for a grant to bring two of our favorite authors to visit our school. We received the grant, and my students got to meet Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. This year, I hope to take students to a nearby teen book festival. I am always on the lookout for new ways to promote reading.

Reading is a true passion of mine, and my students see that. My passion helps create theirs, and they inspire their family and friends. Together, we have created an ever-growing community of readers.

Sarah Krajewski is a 9th grade English and Journalism teacher at Cleveland Hill High School near Buffalo, New York.  She is currently in her 16th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. At school, she is known for dedicating her time to helping students become lifelong readers, and for being a devoted reader herself who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three avid readers.  You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.