Summer Reading

Before we know it, our school year will be ending and summer will begin. We hope our students will take with them the strategies, learning, and love of reading books. We hope our students will choose to read and continue their journeys as developing readers. We wonder how we can help provide and encourage our students to continue their reading identities.

So many school districts throughout our country and across Rhode Island require students to read from teacher chosen lists for a variety of reasons. For example, a great list on which to build upon for Middle School readers is the RI Book Award Nominees for 2019. Unfortunately, many of these lists do not provide students with the key to true engagement, student choice. A great resource of Middle School books for book clubs and self-selected reads is one created by Pernille Ripp.

This year, we read Passionate Readers by Pernille Ripp. Pernille’s passion is focused on literacy and on her students. By far, listening, hearing, and reflecting upon her student’s reading identities empassions her daily reading instruction. She has greatly helped us in our thinking about student choice, book abandonment, and developing a strong community of readers. We will be sharing our learning within our own Professional Learning Community during a faculty meeting this May.  Please view this amazing video on YouTube for a fantastic interview with Pernille Ripp facilitated by Dr. Will Deyamport, III.

Recently, we read a post by Kyleen Beers, co-author of Notice & Note and Disrupting Thinking. Beers details that in order for middle school students to maintain their progress in reading, students should be reading between 5-6 books during the summer.  In fact, kids who don’t read during summer vacation lose two to three months of reading achievement. (“The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores”). Furthermore,  she describes the four tenets of summer reading.

The tenets are:

  1. Read whichever books look good to you.
  2. Nudge students throughout the summer.
  3. Give students the opportunity to read easier books.
  4. Celebrate reading series books.

While we agree that preventing “summer slide”, or the loss of learning over the summer, is a noble cause, we want to ensure our efforts entice reading instead of making it a dictated, potentially negative experience. The right summer learning experiences can stave off regression and close achievement gaps.  Research shows that when children select their own reading materials and read for enjoyment, they receive the most benefits – better reading comprehension, writing style, vocabulary, spelling and grammatical development.   Students also benefit when the adults in their lives encourage them and read too.  Including options that have social components also helps – meet-ups, blogs, group texts, etc.

Make families aware of the summer loss research.  Afterall, forewarned is forearmed.  Publicize summer reading programs in your area.  Encourage families to include incentives for summer reading.

If summer reading is mandatory, we suggest putting lists together of can’t-wait-to-read books. Perhaps host book-tastings or book talks in June to create some enthusiasm for titles.  If you must assign a book make sure it is accessible to all students. Will all students understand the book? Can they have different ways of accessing it – podcasts, partner reading, teacher assistance or check-ins, etc.? We hope we have given you food for thought about your practices and look forward to hearing from you.


Dawn & Dr. Brian

A New Year Begins: Reflection

No matter where you are in your teaching career, one can always be reminded it is essential to reflect on how the year has progressed and where the rest of the year is headed. As a National Board Certified Teacher and a soon-to-be National Board Certified teacher, reflection is an integral part of who we are. We not only self-reflect, but we also listen to our students.

It is important for students to know how well they are doing as they learn. This is because the knowledge that they are doing well gives students a sense of achievement which motivates them to learn more. Therefore, it is absolutely essential for teachers to monitor students’ learning and give them feedback.  But the same holds true for us as practitioners.  We need to know how we are doing.  We can accomplish this by looking at student progress data.  Observing student graphs trending upward is gratifying.  Adjusting course when data is flat or trending down fuels our need to make a difference in our students reading abilities.  But how often do we ask them what they think of our teaching?

We recently gave our students a Google Survey that was based on Pernille Ripp’s End of Year Survey  she created and shared on her blog. The results were amazing and having this information mid-year will allow us to make some positive changes in our classrooms. For example, Dr. Brian was surprised when his students mentioned they wanted “to get down to business right away” instead of hearing him chat with them. Although I, Brian, had the best of intentions to bond with my students, I know that not every student is going to like this so I will have to challenge myself to find another way of doing this. I was also surprised to learn how much they would prefer if I gave them more time to read books of their own choice. I know choice is powerful and that I previously carved out time for that during a given week, but finding out they want more time pleases me greatly. I wonder if it is my sharing of my literacy learning that has helped to inspire them? In addition, I value their feedback about the books in my classroom library. They made suggestions that I should include more genres than I currently have and even suggested authors and titles to be added. Please see the recommended genres my students would like added.

Types of Books

I know I was quite pleasantly surprised to see how much impact I’ve had this year on talking up my reading life and sharing my love for reading as my student’s perceptions about reading have greatly changed thus far and can’t wait to see my impact at the end of this year.

Beginning of Year Feelings

Middle of Year

They say the customer is always right. Our students are our customers.  Imagine if we each had a Yelp rating.  What would yours be? What would the comments read?



Dr. Brian & Dawn

Who’s Doing the Work?

As middle school reading specialists, we are well aware of our goals in developing strong readers. What has and will always remain our biggest challenge is coming to grips with the level of scaffolding that is needed for our students. We are cognizant of the learning centered questions we have: 1. What are our student’s learning? 2. What will we do if they have learned it? 3. What will we do if they haven’t? But when is support enough and when is it too much?

In their book, Who’s Doing the Work?: How To Say Less So Readers Can Do More, Burkins & Yaris explore how some of the traditional scaffolding practices we use may inhibit them from important opportunities to learn and grow. We wonder if our scaffolding is getting in the way of these opportunities and preventing our students from becoming confident and independent readers. The authors aren’t simply suggesting teachers do less but, are asking us to conscientiously choose what we do less of.

In our last post, we discussed getting to know our students deeply.  We’ve followed up with them since that time to discuss their interests, individual learning profiles ( screening and diagnostic metrics) as well as unpack their “Letters to Reading”. We wanted to give students an opportunity to refine their goals based on current data.  Students have also been grouped by common instructional need. But we’ve been plagued by Burkins and Yaris'(2016) question: Are you scaffolding or carrying?  When we think about our current 7th and 8th graders, students who have been with us for a year or more, we know we must be honest with ourselves and answer with a resounding — we have carried them!

If our students are to manage their own learning then we need to ensure they set their own goals, choose activities that will help them get there, and reflect on their progress — in short,  become active participants in the process of realizing them. One critical step on our journey, is to use the PDSA strategy with our students.  The Plan-Do-Study-Actnew doc 2017-10-10 10.49.28_1 process is an improvement process. Students are involved making decisions about their learning. They analyze data from their assessments and develop plans on how they can improve their reading performance.  Over the next few weeks, student will be collecting and plotting data on their graphs. After analyzing the data, students determine if the plan worked and make data-driven decisions from there.  The students ask themselves questions such as, “What did I do that did or did not work?” and “Where else can I try to make improvements?” It is our hope that through PDSA, students will become more intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically motivated, and that we become partners in education with them. We believe it is the students’ education, and, therefore, they should be actively involved in making important choices that improve their learning and their outcomes.

We are on this journey together with our students. Having students self-reflect with our feedback using the PDSA cycle helps our students to manage their learning. John Hattie lists feedback as one of the most powerful influences for student achievement. Hattie (2017) also states that the most powerful feedback is given from the student to the teacher, which allows the teacher to see learning through the eyes of our students, making learning visible. This is essential in allowing us to hand over the reigns to our students. As facilitators, we can assist them in owning and planning their next steps on their journey from being good to great.

We look forward to hearing how you are helping your students own their learning.

Brian & Dawn







Often times we make assumptions about a students limitations based on our past experiences or from data dashboards but students are complex beings with passions, curiousness and interests.  These intrinsic influences can and do often catapult students into text much more difficult than we might assign or above the lexile we might suggest.   Sometimes we are the glass ceiling to our students growth.  We needed to be reminded to “Always make engagement and student interest the most important criteria in text selection; it seduces them into doing hard work independently (Yaris & Burkin, 2016).”


Getting to Know Your Students at a “Deeper” Level

Every day, as we scroll through our Twitter feeds, we see more and more ideas about knowing your students better. This year, our district is engaging and utilizing Deeper Learning strategies to engage our students in their learning. After a recent professional development day sponsored by our school district and Highlander Institute, we decided to start our year off differently by getting to know our students better.

We have always gotten to know our students as learners. As reading teachers, we become aware of their strengths and weaknesses through several short screening and diagnostic measures.  We put a picture together of them – their decoding skills, their fluency and their ability to comprehend new words and text.  We believe, the better we know them as learners, the better we can teach them so they can learn.  But that really wasn’t the whole child. Those were still disparate pieces we were attempting to merge together.

We needed a way to get to know them as people.  Traditionally, we have them complete some sort of interest survey.  This picture of our students seemed incomplete, fuzzy.  We didn’t know what made our students frustrated, stuck or even joyful about the reading process.


A sample letter from one of our students.

We first began discussing our own relationships with reading and were totally honest in regard to our feelings and experiences reading. Yes, we admitted we were both struggling readers as young children! They were shocked and yet, reassured.  We reviewed Sharon Walpole’s Staircase to Proficiency, so students could discuss their successes and obstacles using the correct terms.

Students then joined in and discussed some of their experiences, challenges, and successes. After orally rehearsing and hearing from others, students were given a sample reading letter and we discussed academic vocabulary such as “greeting” and “closing.” Students then drafted their letters and we engaged in peer feedback using Two Stars and a Wish (two great things about their writing and one wish to make it better). After the students made their edits and revisions based on the feedback, they published their writing.

For us, it was a different experience to start the year this way, but it was so worth it. These letters opened our eyes to how much we need to strengthen our students’ relationship with reading.  In some cases, their honesty was heartbreaking, touching or inspiring. We feel better prepared to start them on their journey to become better readers.

Thank you for reading our blog! We look forward to continuing our conversation with you in future posts.

We’d love to hear from you in the comment section about your experiences getting to know your students at a “deeper” level.

Brian & Dawn