Wednesday, May 6, 2015

OES Reads: An Epilogue

Through January and February I invited other colleagues to virtually follow our five-week whole-school community reading initiative, OES Reads. When we reached the conclusion of our event, I posted what I thought would be the last blog post in that series, even subtitling the post "The Final Chapter." That was short-sighted on my part. Our last day of OES Reads was hardly a finale. Our reading story has gone on and on and on as the year has continued.

Frankly, I'm thankful for all the things that have taken me by pleasant surprise since our closing assembly. We believe our whole-school program is valuable in getting books into the hands of our families, connecting families to school life and promoting family literacy, and building a greater reading community. But there can be a fine-line between "valuable" and "successful," and--as is true about so many other facets of our lives as teachers--our committee has wondered about how to measure the success of OES Reads. How do we know OES Reads was successful?

I realized recently that I have seen all kinds of signs--big and small--that should be considered evidence of "success." For the sake of my colleagues who put their time and their hearts into OES Reads and for those who have followed virtually, I offer these notable examples.

~ The closing activities for OES Reads were held almost three months ago, yet the staff has asked that we leave the long, stretching publication timeline and OES Reads displays hanging on the walls of the building because they've noticed students still point to and discuss the photos and book covers. Some students could easily sweep a Jeopardy category about Kate Messner's publication dates.

~ Kate Messner is regularly referred to as just "Kate" in and among the rooms and people at our school. There's no intended disrespect in this habit--Kate has simply become an extended part of the family, and when her name comes up in conversation, no explanation is needed.

~ Classroom conversations are frequently punctuated by "Kate Messner said..." or "What do you think Kate would do?" One student proudly owns his new-found commitment to Kate and her writing. He has read All the Answers four times cover-to-cover outside of school, is modeling a free choice writing piece after Wake Up Missing and is eyeballing the ARC of Ranger in Time: Danger in Ancient Rome that sits on my table. Hardly a day goes by without a reference to his favorite author, and the best part is this: his classmates aren't annoyed with his admiration because they shared in the discovery experience together.

The thirteen Kate Messner books that were purchased for us as part of OES Reads are never in the library. The collection has a seat of prominence along the top of the bookcase (with our Ranger in Time poster and Kate's picture), but the shelf where they had all been displayed during the five-week program is empty. Always. There have been arguments at the circulation desk about whose turn it is to check out Wake Up Missing.

~ Many students who didn't consider that a person was behind all the writing in the book they carry, let alone name a favorite author, now proudly claim Kate Messner as their favorite.

~ Students to-be-read lists--for February vacation, April vacation, and now summer reading--are dominated by Kate Messner titles. Students are hand-selling her books to the kid across the table. They are lending their own copies to kids who are looking to borrow them.

~ Kids are asking about upcoming releases and have a book-ish nosiness about what Kate is writing next. These questions are being asked and conversations are happening among students across grades and with school personnel that are not the students' classroom teacher. These conversations are happening over cheeseburgers in the lunchroom as well as from the top of the jungle-gym on the greening playground.

~ The Digital Media Club has been working diligently on a feature newcast about OES Reads with their advisor (my neighboring teacher), Katie Thomas. I am grateful to have been a "consultant" on the project and shared in their excitement as this film was built, and I'm even more excited to feature it's debut in this post. Let the kids' joy speak for itself:

This year the committee took a leap of faith in changing our whole-school community reading program from "One Book for All" (our previous slogan) to "One School, Two Books, One Author." In making the shift, we hoped our program could balance reading AND writing, and that we could open doors for the students through books that start a series and an invitation to other books by our featured author.

As the school year winds down, we're looking back at the moments that made this year memorable and enriching for our kids, and it seems OES Reads was significant in building the literacy lives of our students and our school. What more evidence is needed to know that the initiative was successful?

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