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.

trump-for-america-bw-and-colorBy John Ruberry

I haven’t read all of the thousands of John Podesta emails hacked by Wikileaks–has anyone yet?–but what I have read they betray a Democratic Party obsessed with two things: Money and power.

Liberal writer Thomas Frank, in his second great (gasp!) Guardian column in less than a week, accurately portrays the modern Democratic Party:

Let us start with the Democrats. Were you to draw a Venn diagram of the three groups whose interaction defines the modern-day Democratic party – liberals, meritocrats and plutocrats – the space where they intersect would be an island seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts called Martha’s Vineyard.

I’m going to drive the point home by reminding you that John F. Kennedy Jr, who was a liberal, meritocrat, and a plutocrat, was flying to Martha’s Vineyard to attend a cousin’s wedding when the airplane he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic. The Vineyard is Barack Obama’s favorite vacation spot–he’s been there seven times while president. Martha’s Vineyard the playground of the Democrat elitists. Bill and Hillary Clinton have vacationed there several times. In August her campaign held a $100,000-per-couple fundraiser on the island, just days after a devastating flood struck Louisiana.

In those Podesta emails, I haven’t so far found any mention of blacks, unless it’s about the black vote, the group that Democrats claim to champion more than anyone. But other than voting en masse for the Democrats and celebrity campaign appearances by people like Jay-Z, African-Americans otherwise aren’t much use for the Democrats.

Blue collar workers, a section of the electoral pie that has been shrinking for decades, appear to be missing from the Podesta emails too. They are also absent from Martha’s Vineyard, from what I hear, unless they are modern George Wilsons from The Great Gatsby, dutifully repairing plutocrats’ Teslas. The working class, once the biggest chunk of the FDR coalition, is heading towards the Republican Party. Perhaps a majority of them are inside the GOP tent already. And you won’t find what Michael Moore calls “the forgotten working stiff” on any vacation, because the leftist flamethrower pointed out last month his stiff hasn’t “had a real vacation in years.”

Some blacks besides the First Family “holiday” on the Vineyard, but in a 2009 article in New York magazine, Touré dismissed them as African-Americans who are “the only ones,” such as the only black in the room, neighborhood, or workplace.

“No man is an island entire of itself,” John Donne wrote nearly 400 years ago, “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Unless of course you are a member of the Democrat elite. An island accessible only by boats and airplanes is a fitting hangout for them.

Which leaves “the leftover people” for the Republicans. Sure, the elitists will blame the decline in unionization of the blue collar work force as why the leftovers have fallen behind.

Maybe.

Also discovered in Podesta’s WikiLeaks cache was an email from Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who advised the Clinton campaign to choose a city outside of Washington for its headquarters because they would be better positioned to hire “low paid permanent employees.” And just what wage does Schmidt view as low paid? Is it less than the $15 minimum wage that Democrats call for?

John "Lee" Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven
John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

Oh, if Schmidt really believes every verse in the Democratic mantra, then why isn’t Google unionized?

So, no, the Democratic Party isn’t the champion of “the little guy” anymore, just as Martha’s Vineyard isn’t a vacation destination for blacks living in Boston’s impoverished Dorchester neighborhood. Ironically it’s a billionaire from Manhattan who, at least this autumn, has made “the little guy” feel at home within the Republican Party.

John Ruberry, whose closest brush with Martha’s Vineyard has been South Boston, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

by baldilocks

In honor of Pushkin’s birthday, June 6.alexander_sergeyevich_pushkin

It is one of the ironies of life and history that Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (Russian: Алекса́ндр Серге́евич Пу́шкин)—a Russian man partially of African descent–is considered the founder of Russian literature. It is as though the influence of Other was meant to be added to a society which has demonstrated well-documented xenophobia and antipathy toward non- Russians.

 

Pushkin pioneered the use of vernacular speech in his poems and plays, creating a style of storytelling—mixing drama, romance, and satire— associated with Russian literature ever since and greatly influencing later Russian writers. He also wrote historical fiction. His The Captain’s Daughter provides insight into Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great.

Born in Moscow, Russia, Pushkin published his first poem at the age of fifteen, and was widely recognized by the literary establishment by the time of his graduation from the Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoye Selo. Pushkin gradually became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals; in the early 1820s he clashed with the government, which sent him into exile in southern Russia. While under the strict surveillance of government censors and unable to travel or publish at will, he wrote his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov, but could not publish it until years later. His novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, was published serially from 1825 to 1832.

In other words, Pushkin penned his works in a manner that the normal, every-day Russian could understand and, by doing so, shaped the Russian language in his own image thereafter. Two and a half centuries before him, William Shakespeare played an identical role for the English language. Continue reading “Sons of Russia and of Africa”