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Sharing the gift of literacy: how to get your students hooked on books.

After her article in the September issue of Techniques was published, Dauna Easley heard from a number of teachers who thanked her for the advice it provided. One part of the story that drew particular interest was the section on reading orally to students, and she was frequently asked about the books she used for her classroom reading. This article offers some of her suggestions.

Recently, a new bookstore opened close to my home. I was excited about this event, as browsing in a bookstore is a favorite activity of mine. The grand opening was well advertised, and I decided to attend. I was only a few steps inside the front door when I ran into Donovan and Mionna, a couple of my former students.

"Speak of the devil," said Donovan.

"Man, this is freaky," added Mionna. "Were your ears ringing? Did you know that we were just talking about you?"

"Who are you calling a devil?" I joked in return. "And what were you saying about me? Don't tell me the truth if it's going to hurt my feelings," I added. (I've been a teacher long enough to have learned some survival skills.)

"This is truly weird!" replied Donovan. "We were just wandering around this bookstore seeing all these books that you read to us."

Then they rattled off several titles that they had seen displayed on the shelves.

Donovan continued, "I was just saying how strange it is that I actually know what is in all these books. We even said, 'Where's Mrs. Easley? She is bound to be here somewhere.'"

Ahhhh yes, it was a gratifying moment for me. Donovan and Mionna were not members of my Teacher Academy class. They were culinary arts students that I had taught in a required class called Continuous Quality Improvement. Donovan and Mionna might most kindly be described as reluctant readers. They confessed they were at the bookstore opening to sample the free food. And yet they rattled off several titles of books about which they were completely familiar.

Every once in a while, as a teacher--if you are really lucky--you get a brief glimpse at the difference you have made in a student's life. This was one of those moments. I savored the experience with a big grin as I drove home.

A teacher making a difference--that's what I work toward every day. It's what I try to teach as I instruct a Teacher Academy program for Butler Tech in a satellite program at Lakota West High School in the Cincinnati area.

A teacher who made a difference in my life was a sixth grade teacher in Mason, Ohio, named French Smith. It was Mr. Smith who taught me the power of reading aloud every day to a group of students. This is a technique that most early elementary teachers use daily but somehow is sorely overlooked in our secondary and postsecondary settings. I will never forget the excitement within our class as Mr. Smith orally read Robinson Crusoe to us one chapter at a time following lunch every day. Each day we would beg him to read more. We were spellbound by this unfolding tale. It brought us together as a class ... made us a family. Thank you, Mr. Smith! It is a lesson I have never forgotten.

The Power of the Spoken Word

I read orally to my secondary students every day. It doesn't take a lot of time. I usually only read for a few minutes. But I believe it is one of the most powerful things I do as a teacher. I know it is. I'm hoping I can encourage you to do the same.

What do I read orally to my Teacher Academy students? I read to them from great books about teaching, of course. I read from Sharon Draper's Teaching from the Heart, Roland Barth's Learning by Heart and Improving Schools from Within, Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul, compiled by Canfield and Hansen, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff." A Guide for Teachers, and my personal favorite, Teachers Touch Eternity by Dauna Easley.

If I want to build sensitivity for working with students with special needs, I read Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon. When I am teaching an awareness of child abuse, I orally read A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer. We cry together during that one. But do you know what happens when I finish that book? I see the sequels to his book start popping up all over my classroom. Without ever assigning the reading, half of my class will be reading Dave Pelzer's The Lost Boy and then A Man Named Dave.

That's the secret and exciting power of oral reading. It turns students on to reading and makes them want to read more.

I also want my Teacher Academy students to read independently about teaching. I compiled a great reading list in a simple way. I e-mailed every teacher in the huge district where I teach and asked the question, "What is the best book about teaching that you have ever read?" The responses gave me my reading list of 35 books.

My students begin with a summer reading assignment, and then they read one book per quarter for the two years that I have them. I allow them to choose the titles that most interest them from this list.

When I read orally, however, I don't just choose to read about teaching. I carefully select readings that help them learn to live successfully. The statistics tell me that my students may change jobs a dozen or more times. They may even choose completely different professions a few times during their working careers. I work hard to prepare them for that.

When my juniors and seniors reach me, they have taken close to a dozen years of English and math. They have had science since first grade and years and years of social studies. But they have heard very little about goal setting, handling change, nurturing a dream, motivational strategies, leadership skills and handling tough times. I use my oral reading time to focus on just those skills.

Just Right for Teens

One of my favorite series for oral reading is Richard Carlson's Don't Sweat the Small Stuff books. The chapters inside the books are brief, just right for those few moments I have for oral reading, and Carlson, like many of the best-selling authors, has written one book specifically for the teen market. Though I must confess, I use excerpts from all of his books with my students.

Let me describe some of my favorite segments from his Don't Sweat The Small Stuff for Teens. "Don't Burn Bridges" helps teens fight the urge to "tell someone off" to quickly and temporarily vent their frustration. It succinctly describes how those moments of anger may release a temporary pain but come back to cut off opportunities in the future.

Another chapter encourages teens to set a goal to read eight pages a day. With statistics, he points out how this modest goal translates into the equivalent of several books a year and, sadly, places them head and shoulders above most of their peers. In another chapter he talks about techniques for absorbing the speed bumps that occur during everyday living. We have the choice to tense up and be rattled by life's bumps, or we can relax a little, anticipate the bumps, absorb them and move on.

Another personal favorite is Susan Jeffer's book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. This book beautifully cracks the myth that successful people are successful because they have no fear. Everyone experiences fear in a new situation, but people who ultimately triumph, simply experience the fear and keep on going. Her chapter titled "How is Your Whole Life?" describes an activity I do with my students every year. It fabulously illustrates the importance of living your life with balance. In another chapter, she effectively describes how living within your comfort zone will keep you from realizing your full potential.

The Right Words at the Right Time, compiled by Marlo Thomas, is a collection of the best advice people have ever been given. How valuable is that to have at your fingertips?

Scott Hamilton's mother told him that we are all given a certain number of minutes to live. The number of minutes you have is not important. It's what you do with those minutes that determines how productive your life is. Jimmy Carter quoted his teacher in his inaugural address. What a perfect oral reading for my Teacher Academy students!

Marlo Thomas herself was unnerved by how everyone in the entertainment industry compared her to her father, Danny Thomas. Her father sent her a pair of horse blinders on her opening night. He said, "I raised you to be a thoroughbred. Don't look left or right; just run your own race."

Jay Leno first understood himself as a person when he read the old classic children's book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Every year I read Mr. Leno's story to my students and then follow it with the Mike Mulligan book.

Who Moved My Cheese? is an easy-to-read story that points out mistakes we all make while trying to deal with change. Whale Done is another simple book that shares the story of how trainers use nothing but positive reinforcement to train the whales at Sea World. They consistently ignore negative behavior and give a great deal of positive attention to every behavior they want to reinforce. What a great skill for a future teacher or for anyone who plans to work with others effectively!

Fish! is another small book that reminds everyone of four important principles to make the workplace a positive place to be. 1. Choose your attitude. 2. Play. (Work doesn't have to be drudgery.) 3. Make their day. (Go out of your way to make your customers or co-workers or students feel special.) 4. Be There. (Really be in the moment to meet your customers' needs.)

The Present is another simple book that illustrates the skill of focusing on the current moment. Put aside yesterday's frustrations and tomorrow's worry and focus on what you can do right now to move yourself or your organization forward. It's a wonderful skill that will serve my students well throughout their lives, if they can master it.

Rachel Remen authored two beautiful books ripe with simple and profound wisdoms presented in story form. Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather's Blessings contain many heartfelt excerpts that I share with my classes orally.

In one story, Remen describes the power of the three-letter word "yet." She claims we should never finish a negative statement about ourselves without the word "yet."

"I'm not the weight I want to be ... yet." Yeah, that feels better.

Zig Ziglar's See you at the Top and Success for Dummies both are full of great short readings that will help your students move forward with positive skills for achieving their goals in life.

Teachers Touch Eternity, my own book, is full of wonderful advice for teens. In it, I have completely described a "Dream Formula," which includes a guide to follow to move anyone through the steps to help them realize their dreams.

The chapter titled "What A Loser" is a classic that strikes a chord with every teen who has ever faced a failure. And who hasn't? It magnificently illustrates the point that winners are simply losers who refuse to quit trying. Other chapters that work well with teens are "Eat the Fish," "A Four Letter Word," "The Nine Boxes" and "Striving for Excellence."

I also use Stephen Covey's book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Teens to teach students how to live more effectively. I especially like talking to them about the Circle of Influence and the Circle of Concern. Too many teens (and adults for that matter) fill up all of their time focusing on situations that they cannot change. By expending all of that energy in the wrong place, they waste valuable time and emotions they could better be using on situations in which they can be influential.

I also love to focus on my students' ability to make positive choices in their lives. At the beginning of class, I walk way to the left side of the chalkboard and write, "Event." Then I slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y draw a line all the way from the left side of the board to the far right of the board where I write, "Response." In the middle of the board, I write, "time to choose."

I orally read what Covey says about our freedom to choose our response to any given circumstance. My chalkboard looks like this.

Event.... (time to choose).... Response

I try to visually teach them that they always have the freedom to choose their response, no matter what the circumstances. Too many teens employ knee-jerk reactions. "Well, he said this, so I had to punch him!" Not really. The choice was yours.

Jay McGraw's Life Strategies for Teens is another favorite of my students. They especially love an activity I do about looking at life through different lenses, which I found within the pages of that book. There is great section that humorously describes the many types of students found in any given high school. The author wrote the book when he was 20 and has a way of relating to teens that makes them want to listen to his ideas.

Teachers as Reading Role Models

Recently, I was invited to speak at the International Reading Conference in Reno. While there, I purchased a book with a title that just jumped off the shelf at me. The title? Teachers as Readers.

Bingo! That's it. I am a reader, and my students know it. I share my reading with them. I talk about the books that I read, and I read orally to them every day. This oral reading builds a very special camaraderie within my classroom.

My students remember the books I share with them orally forever.

This past spring, while I was teaching, Keir, a student of mine, was paying no attention to my lesson. Her head was in the book The Guardian, by Nicholas Sparks--right there in my classroom. I didn't admonish her. I just found a moment when I could quietly walk up beside her.

I said, "That's a good book, isn't it? Have you read Sparks' other books?"

Then I mentioned several titles, advising her which ones to read first. Each time she would start a new one, she would bring it to class to show me.

We educators hear so much about literacy and its importance within our schools. We hold meetings and go to conferences trying to unlock the secret to dozens of different techniques and tools for getting our students to read. I believe the best, and too often overlooked key to literacy is within us--the teachers. Even as we conscientiously teach our subject matter, we are first role models. We must be readers and share our excitement for reading with our students.

We must then take it one step further and read orally to them-yes, even the young adults. This puts everyone in the class on the same page. It's a shared experience that binds us together forever in a way that nothing else does.

The reality is that I won't be with my students forever. They come into my life for only a year or two. Reluctantly, I have to admit that they may forget much of what I teach them within a few short years. But if I can "turn them on" to books and the joy of reading, I have improved their lives forever. By spreading the joy of reading, teachers can touch eternity.

Great Books to Read Orally with Students

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff series by Richard Carlson

The Right Words at the Right Time by Marlo Thomas

The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers

Success for Dummies by Zig Ziglar

Teachers Touch Eternity by Dauna Easley

Life Strategies for Teens by Jay McGraw

The Present by Spencer Johnson

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson

Whale Done by Ken Blanchard

Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Remen

Fish! by Stephen Lundin, Harry Paul and John Christensen

Write It Down and Make It Happen by Henriette Klauser

Dauna Easley, author of Teachers Touch Eternity, teaches a teacher academy program for Butler Tech at Lakota West High School In the Cincinnati area. She Is also a popular speaker at state and national conferences and will be giving two presentations at this year's ACTE Convention in Las Vegas. She can be reached at easley-d@prodigy.net.
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Author:Easley, Dauna
Publication:Techniques
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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