From the Office of the Future of Reading

Please join me in welcoming today’s guest blogger, Katy Ackerson. Katy has been a teacher librarian for 11 years, spending the first 10 of these as an elementary school library specialist, gaining her National Board certificate in 2008. Katy currently serves 6th – 8th graders at Kulshan Middle School in Bellingham, WA. She loves the quirky, awkward nature of middle school students and relates with their goofy sense of humor.

Katy Ackerson

Reading Madness 

I have struggled during my entire career as a teacher librarian to balance my main roles of “reading enthusiast and advisor,” and “teacher of 21st century skills.” I have generally fallen heavy on the skills side as I watch my colleagues labor in teaching and feel that I, too, should be fretting over the acquisition and mastery of skills. Reading books, talking to students about books, and helping kids find books that match their interests and reading levels just seems too good to be true in education’s world of assessments, data, and accountability, so it must not be important.

This year I have taken the opportunity to scale back the skills teaching, working in tandem with Language Arts teachers to get the right books in the hands of readers. I have let myself believe this year that this is the most important thing I do – being enthusiastic about books and reading, and guiding my students to books that will excite and challenge them, too.

One of the more engaging events that I have run was the brain child of Darilyn Sigel, a fellow librarian in my district. Coinciding with the NCAA March Madness tournament, we selected 32 great books from a variety of genres and at a variety of reading levels. We paired them with similar books and presented the Battle of the Books, or Reading Madness, a bracketed tournament. Students could vote, using an online Google form, on any pairs as long as they had attempted to read both books and had a true sense of which one they liked best. After the first round of voting, students were given time to read the new pairs, and so on until a final reader’s choice winner was announced. This was a fun way to encourage students to step outside of their normal genre of choice, to expose both some new titles and some forgotten favorites, and to inspire conversation between students about which books they liked better than others and why.

March Reading Madness
Hear me, O haggard school librarians! When you read and recommend books to students and they in turn read and enjoy those books, you have inspired the future of that child! You have led that child one step closer to a future that is filled with books: books that will entertain, transport, open eyes, teach, inspire, challenge ideas, and make the mind stronger! While I still teach skills and collaborate with classroom teachers to integrate the technology required by the Common Core State Standards, I will not let myself fall into the guilty trap of neglecting my readers because it doesn’t feel like I’m “working hard enough” when I get to do what I love, every day. Read on!

Wow, Katy: what a call to action! I can’t imagine the push-pull teachers and librarians feel but I for one am grateful for educators like you who keep the most important thing as the most important thing. And I say “amen” to your challenge to “Read on!”