Teacher Tuesday

I met today’s featured reading teacher through the blog she writes with Jen Vincent, Teach Mentor Texts. One thing led to another, and now I call Kellee Moye a good friend. . .who simply lives 3000 miles away. She teaches at Hunter’s Creek Middle School in Orlando, Florida. There, she works with all grades though this year her focus is on seventh and eighth, in addition to serving at the yearbook teacher AND the Future Problem Solver’s advisor AND Developmental Language Arts ESOL teacher. (note from Kirby: when does Kellee sleep?!

Our tradition here is to take a peek into Kellee’s past before diving into a discussion of how she connects kids and books. Here we go:
Reading at a young age
 Favorite school lunch as a kid: My mom made my lunch 95% of the time. Lucky for her, not so lucky for my future self-control, I was not a picky eater like my sister who was very specific about what she wanted to eat. My only requests were no peanut butter and jelly, if there had to be peanut butter, add honey, and I liked getting a pickle in my lunch. The only days I didn’t eat my mom’s lunch was on pizza day where I begged to buy lunch.
Best friend in grade school: I went to K-3 in Davenport, IA at Garfield Elementary and my best friend, Andrea, lived up the street. I remember that we used to hang out in her basement and play Nintendo (I didn’t have one yet) and jump on her trampoline. I also had 2 boys that were my school friends. They were twins, Jaime and Jeff, and I’ll remember them forever, because they gave me my first baseball mitt.  When I moved to Austin, TX, I met Allison Gandy in sixth grade and we were best friends all the way through middle school (though we have lost touch and I would love to speak to her again!).  
Times you were the new kid in school:  I wasn’t an army brat, but I called myself an art museum brat. My dad directed art museums and since it is a job that takes moving museums to grow within the industry, we moved 3 times when I was a kid. I went to 2 different elementary schools, 1 middle school, and 2 high schools. The hardest move was moving a month into ninth grade.
Teacher who inspired you to stretch: For my entire student career, I felt that I was a good student, but not exceptional at anything. Then, when I was in twelfth grade, I entered Ms. Haley’s infamous classroom. At the time that I was in Ms. Haley’s English class, she was 87 years old and had been teaching in the same room since she was 18. The building was named after her. She was quite intimidating and at first I thought she didn’t like me; however, I soon realized that she just was pushing me harder than any teacher ever had before. She was the first teacher to ever tell me that I was one of the best at something (writing) she’d ever seen and that I could succeed. It is because of her that I chose to get my bachelor’s degree in English Literature.  She changed my life as well as hundreds (maybe thousands) of other students.
The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: Looking back I wish that I had continued doing many things that I quit: ballet in elementary school, softball in high school, cello in college, etc. I don’t have many other regrets about my childhood though maybe some about high school.  I do wish that I was still in touch with many of the friends I remember so fondly.
Kellee, you’ve recently made a switch in your teaching, changing from teaching language arts to teaching intensive reading.  Can you share some of the differences you’ve noticed in these student populations?
The biggest change between teaching ELA and an intensive class is that the students I get are so defeated. Many of them have been in a reading intervention class since they first took the state test in third grade and by eighth grade they are done with it. It doesn’t help that they lose two electives to be in my class as well. So, I find myself worrying a lot more about relationships and teaching to the needs of my students.  When a relationship is built, the students not only don’t hate coming to my class, they enjoy it. All of
a sudden reading, a task they’ve always hated, is not so tedious. Also, if I make sure that I am only teaching what they need, they don’t feel like the class is a waste of time. I am very open with them about how I choose what to teach and I often ask for their input. For the first time for many of them, they feel like they can succeed.
Can you share some of the challenges these struggling readers face?
Confidence. Many of my kids think they will always be bad students in the bad class. It is so hard to break them of this and it is something that you are not taught in education classes. I also find that many of them have learned to fake so well that it is hard to pinpoint what it is they need help in to successfully read well. A teacher of struggling readers needs to really figure out what each student needs to become a stronger reader.
What are some of the ways you’ve changed your teaching methods to reach this group of readers?
When I taught language arts, there was a curriculum that each grade had to teach. It wasn’t so student-based. Now, I do everything based on student needs. We are doing a lot of pre- and post-tests and reteaching, but it is all built around my students.
How do you help these readers feel more at home in the library?
I spend a long time at the beginning of the year just introducing my students to books. Many of them have never finished a novel; they hate reading, and couldn’t find a book they’d like by themselves. So, for the first six weeks, we do genre studies, book talks, book passes, etc. just to help students become more comfortable. Soon they are begging to read all of the time because they finally realize that there are books out there that they enjoy.
How do you help these readers feel more at home with literature?
In general, my students can read whatever they want independently and if they aren’t liking or aren’t comfortable with what they are reading, they can switch it out. This gives the students a feeling of power that they don’t have when there are certain requirements and stigma around reading different types of texts like graphic novels.  In a class setting, struggling readers need more scaffolding because they may not have the prior knowledge or reading ability to read certain pieces of literature. This means lots of chunking and thinking aloud to help them feel their way through.
Why is it important for struggling and reluctant readers to learn to embrace reading?
From the very first day, I use a sports analogy to help my students understand the importance of reading. Many of them play sports and hope to one day play them professionally, so I ask if any of them practice the sport they want to do for a living. Of course, every single one of them raises their hands. I then ask how many of them want to go to college. Again, everyone. I tell them that college is like a sport and you have to practice hard to get good and reading is that practice. This really helps them realize that they can’t just read in school if they hope to succeed, they really need to embrace it and push themselves. I know that this seems like it makes reading work, but the first step towards having my students enjoy reading is to help them understand why.
What skills do you see your students gaining from the techniques you’ve employed?
Many of my students become better readers simply due to the fact that they are reading more.  I also work on good reading strategies with them like making connections, visualizing, comparing/contrasting, using context clues, etc. And once again
, the more we practice the better they get. It is amazing to watch students’ reading levels jump entire grade levels just because they finally understand why they should read and how they should read.
I also read aloud daily to my students and this helps not only build community around a novel, but it is a wonderful time in my classroom- all students are engaged and on the edge of their seat waiting to see what happens next. My favorite read aloud this year has been The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  

Soon we will be reading Hurt Go Happyby Ginny Rorby 

and Endangered by Elliott Schrefer. 

(As you can tell, I am very fond of apes!)
Do you have a favorite anecdote of how a particular book has impacted one of your struggling readers?
I have so many stories about books that have changed students’ point of view, but my favorite is probably a boy I have in my eighth grade class (we’ll call him J) who at the beginning of the year was quite gruff, and firm in his dislike of reading. I struggled to find anything that would hold his interest. Then, one day I was book-talking Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel that I had just finished listening to. 

I was explaining how I couldn’t leave my car, because I had to know what happened, and that I found myself crying. The students asked what the book was about, I explained, and J right away said he wanted to read it. I’ll be honest, I was skeptical that he would be able to make it through a 375 page book when he had never finished a novel on his own. I shouldn’t have doubted him, because by the end of the week he was in the 100s then over the weekend he read over 150 pages and could not stop raving about how amazing the book was. J finished Half Brother in just over two weeks and still talks about it today (seven months later). He has not stopped reading since.
What are some of the titles that have made a big difference for your students? 
Other books that I have seen really change a students’ attitude about reading this year are the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, 

Mary Downing Hahn’s ghost stories, 

Fallenby Lauren Kate,

Smile by Raina Telgemeier, 

the Bluford series, 

Knights of the Lunch Table series by Frank Cammusso,

Bone series by Jeff Smith, Wonder by RJ Palacio, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Crankby Ellen Hopkins, 

Liam O’Donnell’s Graphic Guide Adventures, Go Ask Alice by Anonymous, and, of course, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate series.  These are just the tip of the iceberg.
If you could create a library for your readers – and funds were no object! – what would it look like?
I, luckily, have a classroom library of over 2500 books for my students, but I always seem to never have enough. If I was going to add to my library, I would make sure to have a copy of every graphic novel, as well as books that ranged over all reading levels. Mostly, I just wish that I had an infinite supply so that no matter what a student wanted, I would have it.
What could publishers/authors do to help your reluctant readers be less reluctant?
Publishers and authors have already begun to make a big change to help reluctant and struggling readers- they have realized that illustrations within a book doesn’t mean the book isn’t of good quality. My students love illustrations and specifically graphic novels.
I would also urge publishers and authors to not be too caught up in Lexiles and reading levels. Although common core is coming, we all (teachers, authors, publishers, etc.) need to realize that complexity does not mean that the book tested out to be a certain number; complexity is relative and is based on more than just these numbers. It is based on qualitative, quantitative and reader/task considerations. Just continue making the quality literature at all levels, about all topics, and in all formats.
Wow. I am so grateful you are there for your students, Kellee! This is one powerful post. Thank you.

Kelle is currently blogging with Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts, though this summer they will be parting
ways and Kellee will be starting her own blog with ALAN board member Ricki Ginsberg, titled Unleashing Readers: Helping Students Navigate the World of Books. You can also follow Kellee on Twitter,