By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — “What was the last book you read outside of school — something you read just for fun?  And if you don’t like to read, why not?”

That was my First Five for my grade 10 ELA students one day last week.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research this past year on literacy, curriculum, and how reading affects test scores.  It’s no secret that Louisiana has consistently placed near the very bottom of the list when it comes to reading scores as compared on a national level.

There are a lot of factors that go into those national scores, such as NAEP scores, and it’s not really accurate to say that all students in Louisiana are poor readers.  That is far from the case. But for clarity, in this post, I’m looking at those poor readers. Many of them come from low income families who don’t have books in the home or are products of families where nobody has had time to read aloud to the children very often.

As a parent of two avid readers, I was reading to both of my kids before they were even born.  As infants they were read to every single day.  They’ve never seen me not reading at least one book and our house has always been filled with books and magazines.  It’s just who I am.

But that’s not the case for many of my students.

Compounding the problem for these struggling readers is the Common Core curriculum in which students no longer read entire novels.  Common Core, at least as far as ELA courses, is terrible.  It’s killing the love of reading.  I’ve written about that rather extensively herehere, and here.  As teachers, in my district we have been told that if a student wants to read the entirety of a novel from which we are only teaching certain chapters, “they can read it on their own.”

Well, that’s okay for a strong reader, but I know a lot of struggling readers who will not be able to take on the elements in The Scarlet Letter without some help, nor would it be a book they would willingly pull off the library shelf.

Additionally, there is a difference between academic reading for class and simply reading for the pure fun of it.

What I want to be able to do is to create lifelong readers; I want my students to leave my class having read several books of their own choosing, about topics that they are interested in, and that they are excited about reading.

And since my official mandate is that they “can read on their own,” I’m going to start a classroom library.  Oh yes, we have a school library and it’s wonderful.  We have a librarian who orders books kids like to read and she listens to their requests and suggestions.  But I also think that a classroom library can supplement that. And a student that might not make an effort to go to the school library might just access a classroom library.

Having a library in the classroom sends a message of literacy and encourages reading to students.  If that library is filled with nice, interesting books, just waiting to be read, even better. I want my classroom library to be filled with books that my kids want to read and that are geared toward their interests and their lives.

In response to my First Five question above, about the last book you read, I got answers like this:

“I can’t remember the last book I read.  I hate staring at thousands of words and sitting still that long.  I hate reading!”

and this:

“I don’t know. I think it was a Goosebump book.  I don’t have time to read.”

and this:

“I love to read books and I used to read all the time.  I don’t really know why I don’t read any more.  You can learn so much when you read.”

That student is right.  Reading can drastically increase a child’s vocabulary.  That in itself will increase test scores, but this isn’t about test scores for me.

A lot of the responses indicated that they liked reading in lower grades but somehow just quit doing it.

I don’t want one more child to leave my room not having read a book.

So, I have a plan.  I’ve assembled an Amazon Wish List to start a classroom library and as this school year draws to a close, I am planning new things for next year.  If I can’t teach books in class, I’ll do it out of class; I’m a rebel like that sometimes.  I have plans to encourage students to read from my classroom library and to share what they’ve read with others.  If I need to use incentives to get this started, I will.  (A kid will read almost anything for a honey bun!)  I have shelving and I have a corner space ready to go. I’ve ordered book pockets and cards so I can check the books out to my kids.  It will be attractive and inviting.

I want this to be a fun experience; not like the old Accelerated Reader program where you had to read a book “on your level” with the proper color sticker on it and then take a ridiculous test on it to step your way up to a quota.  Research shows that this program is useless.  Kids that like to read will read anyway and kids that have to read to get an AR grade just learn to hate reading more.

I’ve started an Amazon Wish List and if you would like to help, you can go here, and order whatever you like and have it shipped straight to my classroom. Most selections are under ten dollars. I’ve already started assembling books on my own through thrift stores and through the library book sales and the college book fair.  What I need now are nice, new books that pull my kids into a love of reading!

The list is here.  It’s long and I’m constantly adding to it.  I posted it on my own blog a few days ago and already I’ve received thirty-one books!  It reaffirms for me not just the good in people but that people really do believe in kids and believe in education.  The notes that are coming with the books indicate that people are choosing books that meant something to them or their own children as readers.

I’m collecting these books all summer and when we go back to school in August, I hope to be able to offer a well-stocked classroom library full of engaging books of all levels and subject matter to my students.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. She is the author of the upcoming Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation (LSU Press/Oct.’18).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

Today Donald Trump does something that presidents have promised for decades but have never done. today the US embassy in Israel moves to Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Post notes the day shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is:

It shouldn’t have had to be so bold. Every country ought to have the right to choose its own capital. But that basic political rule applies to each nation on earth, save one.

Think about it. The other 192 United Nations member states pick the site for their capital and it’s no one else’s business.

No doubt, diplomats assigned to Australia would prefer to be situated in Melbourne or Sydney, but the political choice was Canberra and that was that.

Nor did anyone utter a peep when Germany, following reunification, moved its capital from Bonn to Berlin, compelling governments around the world to spend a fortune to find new premises in Berlin.

The same goes for Kazakhstan, which decided to move its capital from Almaty to Astana in 1998, again disrupting the lives of every country that had a diplomatic post in the Central Asian nation.

Or take Nigeria, which chose to leave Lagos and create a new capital city, in distant Abudja, in 1991.

But Israel, and Israel alone, has found itself in the unique position of having its self-declared capital in Jerusalem, while other nations insist it’s in Tel Aviv, where they locate their embassies and residences.

But it IS  a big deal and it’s a big deal because Donald Trump had the courage to keep his word, and because he had that courage others are finding it as well:

Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, supported by the Czech Republic and Romania, blocked an EU motion condemning President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, according to Israeli news anchor Barak Ravid.

Apparently not everyone in the EU have been cowered by Islamists:

“The Hungarians didn’t want to poke Trump in the eye and the Czechs and the Romanians are considering to move their embassies to Jerusalem against the EU position,” a source told the Israeli.

EU officials frustrated by Trump’s actions are proving just as impotent as the media which is also deriding Trump’s move completely unable to cope with a man willing to stand by his word against the crowd.

If the Palestinians are smart they will take notice and make a deal now while they can, because I suspect that the best offer they will get from Trump will be his first, because if in 18 months Korea, Syria and Iran have all played against Trump and lost how much less likely are the Palestinians going to do better.

It will be a lot of fun to watch Democrats campaign against the idea of Jerusalem being Jewish, particularly after the fiasco of 2012  but the irony is I suspect they would have been looking for such an excuse anyway pretty soon.

Update:  for those who have forgotten this story:  Democrats put God & Jerusalem back in the platform…kicking and screaming an excerpt:

Did I actually see the Democrats need three tries to add “God” & “Jerusalem” back to their platform?

Did I actually see the Democrats lose their voice vote three times to change their platform and only pass their amendment due to a tin ear.

Did I actually see CNN focus on Arab Democrats very Angry?

Did I actually hear the hall BOO THE INSERTION OB GOD BACK IN THE PLATFORM ON INTERNATIONAL TV?

I’m sorry as the 11th Doctor said when first meeting the Vampire Ladies in Vampires of Venice “It’s Christmas”