By: Jessica Michael Bowman
Wearing a Love of Literacy on Your Sleeve
Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year. While innumerable blog posts during this “it” season probably lead with that line, and while it may certainly be cliche, it doesn’t make it less true for me. I love how the mist settles in low wisps, weaving around and clinging to our Mountain Mama. I love how West Virginia, at this point, is just showing off all her beauty and wild. I love her drifting leaves, like sparks of fire and warmth in the crisp mountain air, or nestled into the curve of a country road in the same way my daughter and I are arranged on the couch.
Guys, I am here for all of it. I am, undoubtedly, that person this time of year – homemade pumpkin spice latte in hand. (Seriously, I have a milk frother and everything.)
I have no shame in wearing my love of all things pumpkin, cozy, and fall on my sweater sleeve, and the same can be said about my love for all things literacy.
I’ve come to appreciate and own that I am also that teacher. I’m known to shed a few tears (definitely an understatement) in front of my students over a powerful passage, or obsess over how good a book is to the point that I can’t stop telling everyone, children and adults alike, how much they need to read it. Need a book recommendation? I’ve got you! I’m a words person, a book lover. And I can honestly and proudly say that I love that about myself. It just comes naturally to me, in all things, to share who I am and what I’m about.
As I work with teachers, I notice that’s not the case for everyone. People who are just as passionate as me about the written word, might not be as eager to bare their souls with others. And sometimes, as teachers, we just don’t how or even if we should share our reading and writing lives with our colleagues and students.
Recently, I was working alongside a dynamic, engaging middle school reading teacher. We’d been focusing mostly on honing our conferring and small group teaching at this point, and were in the midst of goal-setting conferences when we started to reflect on her students’ writing about reading. During one planning session, we were trying to brainstorm some ways to invigorate their reader’s notebooks when she divulged that she had just spent some time reading and jotting alongside her students to try and inspire them in a more authentic way.
“Is it okay that I did that? Is that best practice?” she asked.
This question stunned me for a moment. As a literacy coach, I am all about research-based instructional practices, but her uncertainty and fear that she might not be doing the “right thing” struck me. How often does our fear of not doing the right thing overshadow our responsiveness or get in the way of us really connecting with other readers and writers? Often, in educational spaces centered on data analysis and teaching all of the standards prior to testing, opportunities to show yourself as a reader and writer might seem inconsequential, when they are truly vital.
We agreed that in that moment, making her reading life visible for her students was one of the best things she could have done for them. Sometimes, who you are as a reader and writer needs to shine through for your kids.
Not everyone needs to tweet about how much a book has changed them or cry in front of their students as they read aloud to prove how much literacy is a part of their lives. There are a few simple things we can do to to bare our reading and writing souls in our classrooms, and in turn encourage our students to see themselves as readers and writers.
Sharing Your Reader and Writer Identity
Make your thinking visible through your reader’s notebook.
In my first WVCTE post of the year, I encouraged teachers to lead with authenticity by keeping and sharing their own reader’s notebook, to use personally and in teaching. Brining my own reader’s notebook into the classroom has transformed how my students write about their reading, and has been the catalyst for them engaging more deeply with their texts.
In addition to making my thinking visible for my students, I’ve also used my reader’s notebook to lead by example in the ways that I create, maintain, and reach my reading goals. Each time I have a goal-setting conference with a student, I leave a visible reminder of the new goal and the strategy I coached the student in using to meet it. To help them keep track of their goals and ensure they’re monitoring their progress, I include my own in my reader’s notebook and share the ways in which I’m working toward them.
Examples from MY reader’s notebook, used in 2nd – 8th grade
Making adding to and sharing your reader’s notebook a priority supports students in reading with critical lenses and writing powerfully about reading. It also humanizes you a bit, and gives your students a glimpse into the reader and writer you are in and outside of the classroom. There are few times I’ve witnessed a middle school class in complete, engaged silence, and each time it’s been when their teachers have shared a snippet of their reader’s notebooks. And the transfer? It was almost instantaneous.
Share your stack!
Inspire your colleagues and students to grow their identities as readers by sharing the past titles that have impacted you as a reader and teacher, as well as those you are currently reading. Some of the most powerful books I’ve read on my own or shared with my students were recommended by other readers and teachers. The more we share and connect, the more we grow!
You might designate a space in your classroom for a teacher curated shelf with some of your favorite recommendations from your classroom library or a place to display your “currently reading” stack. Just making that visible for your students shows that you identify as a reader, encourages students to reflect on the books that they have curated in their own collections, and supports the importance of upholding reading volume.
Another option is a visual display of your currently reading list – maybe a sign posted outside of your classroom or a wall showcasing the reading you’re doing.
I always love walking by Miss Ransom’s classroom at Mill Creek Intermediate to see what she’s reading!
Motivate your writers by not only studying mentor texts, but your own writing as well.
Just like using and sharing a reader’s notebook can be transformative for your readers, keeping and sharing a writer’s notebook can have a powerful impact on students’ writing. Using your writer’s notebook to test drive a character, or draw students in to your prewriting and rehearsal process, can foster transfer into theirs. They might study your writing as a mentor text, or use it as an artifact to build on as they engage in the drafting and revision work of the writing process.
While I still sometimes struggle to view myself as a writer, I’ve noticed how the more I’ve moved toward identifying as one, the more the students I teach have as well. When they see how much I treasure my own writer’s notebook, I notice them cling to their a little tighter. There’s something really beautiful and moving about all of us discovering our potential and pushing each other to grow.
Make time for reading and writing in YOUR classroom, alongside students.
Now, I’m not suggesting we drop instruction every day, kick up our feet, and dive into the stacks that are sitting forlornly on the corners of our desks, abandoned due to grading, duties, and life. I know the value of sacred, precious independent reading for students to transfer their learning and provide an opportunity for feedback through conferring and small groups. However, I also think there is value in carving out time and space for our students to see us as readers and writers, whether during our whole class teaching or alongside them as they engage in the same work. When our learning is made visible, and our practices align with our philosophies, I think we become more credible and trustworthy in the eyes of our students.
It’s this trust that we can build upon, continuing to support them as they grow in their reading and writing identities. When we engage in the work alongside them, we prove that we are invested in it, and ultimately – in them.
Maybe, like a comforting cup of coffee on a brisk morning, these suggestions will help to revitalize the ways in which you make your own learning visible for your students, or even view yourself as a reader and writer. And if you sometimes struggle to do that, need a literacy teaching boost, or just want to chat over a good book, I encourage you to get out there and find your people! Our schools, communities, and state are made up of teachers who are words people and book lovers. I’d suggest beginning with WVCTE, or just opening up a little about who you are as a reader and writer with the teacher down the hallway. We can connect, inspire, and learn from one another. And if a pumpkin spice latte is involved? Well, that checks every box on my fall to-do list.
WVCTE is wondering… How do you wear your love of literacy on your sleeve? In what ways do you help your students see themselves as readers and writers? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Jessica Michael Bowman is an unabashed bibliophile and advocate of lifelong literacy. She is currently a literacy coach in Berkeley County, WV. When she’s not teaching, coaching, or blogging for WVCTE, she’s probably crying over a book. Aside from all things literacy, she’s passionate about her family, traveling, and adding to her music collection. You can connect with her on Twitter @JMichaelBowman5.