How to run a great end-of-year literacy event

With the school year wrapping up for most students, what better way to celebrate than with a family literacy event? It is a great way to bring families together to continue to build your learning community. You can recognize the year’s achievements and kick off summer activities.

The top 5 things that make a great literacy event:

  1. GREAT BOOK: Start with a great book, one with exciting pictures or an intriguing story line.  Read it with passion and ask lots of questions. Follow the read aloud with a quick discussion to review the book and extend the learning.
  2. INTERACTIVE ACTIVITIES: Follow up the read aloud with fun interactive activities that spark everyone’s interests. Anything from writing to acting or drawing can keep the learning going.
  3. WORKING TOGETHER: Provide opportunities to share and work together. Everyone has something to offer and each of us have different experiences. Working together allows for everyone to play a part of the learning.
  4. GOOD COMMUNITY COLLABORATIONS: Partnering with other organizations and businesses in the community can help make the event stronger. Community partners can provide volunteers, activity space, educational resources or refreshments.
  5. OPPORTUNITY TO PRACTICE AT HOME: After families have had a great time at the literacy event, share resources or activities they can do together at home. Giving families the chance to do some of the same types of activities they just experienced allows them to work together.

New York City’s PS 7, the I Have a Dream Foundation – NY and the Scholastic FACE (Family and Community Engagement) group teamed up to host a Literacy Event to celebrate a great year. On an early Saturday morning in East Harlem about 30 students and their families showed up in the school library for literacy event. Students participated in a great read aloud of the book What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. After a quick book discussion the students and their families did three great activities in the cafeteria and then went home with three books and more activities for home.

Program Director Nancy Restrepo-Wilson summed it up when she said, "I loved the opportunity to make reading fun and accessible to families as they support their children. Indeed, we are grateful for this opportunity and look forward to more in the future.”

Save the date: Teacher Week @ Scholastic

No matter how talented, how experienced and how well-trained we are at something, there's always room for improvement! To help you recharge and gear up for next school year, we are excited to invite you to Scholastic for a free, four day event featuring 15 professional development seminars (and exclusive teacher discounts in the Scholastic Store!). 

Teachers, if you are in the NYC area August 18-21, mark your calendars and register for Teacher Week @ Scholastic at www.scholastic.com/teacherweek. (Be sure to include an email address you'll have access to this summer so we can send you updates!)

We are still putting final touches on things and building the full schedule, but we know this year’s seminars will include:

Tailoring Reading Instruction to Your Students By Dr. Julie Washington, Professor, Georgia State University, Communication Disorders Program, Educational Psychology and Special Education

Number Talks By Sherry Parrish, Assistant Professor for The University of Alabama at Birmingham

Writing Evidence-Based Arguments By Dr. Ruth Culham, President of the Culham Writing Company

Putting Students on a Path to Greatness By Bryon V. Garrett, Chairman, National Family Engagement Alliance; Former CEO, National PTA

Supporting Bilingual Students By Dr. Cynthia Weill, Teachers College, Columbia University

New teachers, don’t worry we’ve added special seminars just for you!

Classroom Management and Organization Made Easy By Genia Connell, Master Teacher

Integrating Technology into the Reading/Writing Classroom By Alycia Zimmerman, Master Teacher

7 Strategies for Surviving—and Thriving—in Your First Year of Teaching By: Francie Alexander, Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic Inc.

Life, death and the stories in between

Books teach us about life and its corollary, death. We try to make sense of the splendor and the ruin around us by turning to great works of literature. Often, those works were written by someone we don't know, even someone from another era altogether.

As you look for reading material for your students, especially your reluctant readers in middle and high school, why not start with an obituary? A good obituary, reporter Marilyn Johnson observed in The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, is a "tight little coil of biography" that "reminds us of a poem" and "contains the most creative writing in journalism." It can also reignite our interest in a life's work.

Consider this obituary of Maya Angelou, whom I best knew as the author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a memoir about growing up in the Jim Crow South, and “On the Pulse of Morning,” a poem she delivered at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Here are just a few of the things I hadn't realized — or hadn't remembered — about Angelou:

  • She sang calypso.
  • She spoke at least six languages.
  • Although she never went to college, she had more than 30 honorary degrees.
  • She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973.

Most significant, perhaps, Angelou took a huge risk in publishing her first memoir, something we now take for granted.

“All of the writers of my generation must honor the ground broken by Dr. Maya Angelou,” author Tayari A. Jones posted on her Facebook page after Angelou's death on May 28. “She told a story that wasn’t allowed to be told. Now, people tell all sorts of things in memoir, but when she told the truth, she challenged a taboo — not for shock value, but to heal us all.”

If your students want to delve into the life and work of Angelou, check out these links:

These obituaries and appreciations of other writers may also be of interest:

Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014)— The Guardian
"Few writers have produced novels that are acknowledged as masterpieces not only in their own countries but all around the world. Fewer still can be said to have written books that have changed the whole course of literature in their language. But the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez . . . achieved just that."

E. B. White (1899-1985): Recollections by His Stepson — The New Yorker

"White’s gift to writers is clarity, which he demonstrates so easily in setting down the daily details of his farm chores: the need to pack the sides of his woodshed with sprucebrush against winter; counterweighting the cold-frame windows, for easier operation; the way the wind is ruffling the surface of the hens’ water fountain."

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Author of Splendid Nightmares — The New York Times

"As portrayed by Mr. Sendak, the wild things are deliciously grotesque: huge, snaggletoothed, exquisitely hirsute and glowering maniacally. He always maintained he was drawing his relatives — who, in his memory at least, had hovered like a pack of middle-aged gargoyles above the childhood sickbed to which he was often confined."

Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007), Author of the Classic A Wrinkle in Time The New York Times

"She once described herself as a French peasant cook who drops a carrot in one pot, a piece of potato in another and an onion and a piece of meat in another. 'At dinnertime, you look and see which pot smells best and pull it forward,' she was quoted as saying in a 2001 book, Madeleine L’Engle (Herself): Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole F. Chase. 'The same is true with writing,' she continued. 'There are several pots on my backburners.'"

Dwayne McDuffie (1962-2011), Comic-Book Writer — The New York Times

“'You only had two types of characters available for children,' Mr. McDuffie told The New York Times in 1993. 'You had the stupid angry brute and the he’s-smart-but-he’s-black characters. And they were all colored either this Hershey-bar shade of brown, a sickly looking gray or purple. I’ve never seen anyone that’s gray or purple before in my life. There was no diversity and almost no accuracy among the characters of color at all.'”

Roald Dahl (1916-1990): The Story of the Storyteller — NPR

"[Dahl] had an extraordinary confidence about his ability to see into a child's mind and to see the world the way a child saw it."

Barbara Park (1947-2013), Author of Junie B. Jones Children's Stories — Daily News

"Park remembered herself as a troublemaker who knew well the path to the principal's office."

Louisa May Alcott (1832 - 1888) — The New York Times

"There was probably no writer among women better loved by the young than she."

 Adapted from our Editor's Corner

Peer-to-peer sharing: When students spread reading love

Great power for spreading the joy of reading lies within the hands of our students. As teachers we read aloud passionately several times daily, give gotta’-get-my-hands-on-that-book book talks, and create vibrant, inviting classroom libraries. But, how much time is devoted to having students influence their peers about reading? Students themselves are one another's most influential force. If we give them time to talk while honoring their voices, preferences, noticings, and wonderings, a community of engaged, sometimes frenzied, readers develops. Every single student becomes involved. 

Here are five of my favorite strategies for promoting student sharing around books.

1. Buzz Groups (Steven Layne talks about this in his book Igniting a Passion for Reading): Several times a week, students meet for ten minutes to share what’s catching their attention in the books they are currently reading. You can form groups or allow students to create their own. They can share annotations to let other readers in on their thinking (they love using sticky notes to interact with the texts). I like to keep the talk in these groups open-ended, and listen in to see what’s ‘trending’ around their self-selected reading at any given time. As I listen, I come across thinking I want to highlight in class lessons and I discover areas where I might push thinking forward. I sometimes also assign a ‘focus’ for their sharing depending on what aspect of reading we’re studying.

2. “The Golden Easel:” (See photo above!) Students can nominate books to be featured on the golden easel—a special place of honor for books. Readers who nominate books can add sticky notes to the covers, briefly sharing why they want to inspire other readers to read them. Then, those who are interested can write their names on sticky tabs and put them on the books. Viola! A list of readers waiting for a title! A bunch of readers making plans for their reading!  (Hint, place the ‘golden easel’ in high traffic areas, by the sink, for example. Students are washing and find themselves cleverly drawn into a book commercial!)

3. Plastic Document Holders: Love this strategy! Again, place these strategically around the classroom (I like to have several by our door, so as students are waiting, they are once again drawn into reading one another's thoughts about notable books). Since they are clear, the COVERS of books are easily visible. Readers can add their thoughts on sticky notes along the bottom of the holders, and peers can comment on the sides. I found the plastic holders at OfficeMax (they also come in sets of 3 attached holders, but I prefer the single ones so book covers have more visibility).

4. “I Just HAVE TO Share” Parking Lot: This is a poster where students can place sticky notes about things they simply MUST share with classmates. When there are a few seconds here and there in a day, I have the student retrieve the note and share what must be said! If I find we’re getting flooded with notes, I allow students a minute or two to come up, grab their note, find a buddy or group and share OR I simply tell them to take their note to lunch and share it with other readers!

5. Televised book talks:  Many teachers record their students giving books talks. Take it one step further:  televise them! A TV strategically placed near the lunch line, where book talks are broadcast, can go a long way toward creating a culture of reading in a school. Plus, students feel so empowered: their reading lives are potentially affecting the reading lives of countless peers!

Just think how these strategies can ignite your room with talk, exponentially increase the number of books students are exposed to, and spread positive energy around the act of reading. When visitors walk into a classroom that is flooded with books and genuine talk about books, they know reading isn’t just a priority, it’s a passion!  

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