Monday, February 21, 2011

Read Your Heart Out Day 2011


I don't have a single picture from the day.  It blew by so quickly, I didn't have a second to even catch my breath long enough to grab the camera.


New England winters can be long and dreary, especially with the feet of snow on the ground this year.  Instead of letting the weather suck the energy out of our school, winter is the perfect vehicle for an all-out, no-holds-barred, winner-take-all Read-a-Thon.  Yep, Read-a-thon.  We're stuck inside, daylight's in short supply, why capitalize on this opportunity and get everyone jazzed about literacy?  

And, at Deer Hill School, we go all out.  The thon kicked off with an all-school  Are You Smarter Than A Book Character?, a take off on the game show, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Parrell, put all of their charisma on display while the battled off over general knowledge against, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Poseidon, and Greg Heffley, and many other popular characters.  

This year we've added a very special event to the Read-a-Thon family.  Our first ever school-wide Read Your Heart Out Day celebration.  Valentine's Day is so close to February Vacation, what better way to transition than with an entire day devoted to the love of reading?  

Nothing, if you ask me. 

Students come to school in comfortable attire, bring sleeping bags, pillows, their independent reading and a collection of their favorite picture story books.  In the morning, parents are invited to bring the newspaper, a magazine, or the book they're reading to join in the celebration.  Younger siblings are welcome as students volunteer to read their favorite books to them.  

The Evolution:

RYHOD began as a self-contained activity in my classroom.  Over the past few years, it's caught on and taken flight throughout the building.  This year it was celebrated school wide.  As we began planning it in the fourth grade, teachers suggested a classroom rotation.  This spawned the creation of themes.  It added a whole other dimension to the day.  Ms. Mosher's classroom was set up like Hollywood Blvd, complete with red carpet and walk of "book character" fame. 

Mrs. Corkhum's room erected a temporary tent city where every student could find a quiet nook for reading.  There was the beach with Playa de Parrell, Ms. O'Hara's Red Sox theme to remind us that spring is just around the corner and, of course, Mrs. Clark's recreation of Disney World.  

My class had just finished up a major writing unit that we were putting together in ebook format.  It was the perfect merging of literacy and technology, a great premier for RYHOD.  

That got me thinking.  What about video of teachers reading at home?  Wouldn't that be cool for the kids to see where their teachers read?  We had it, technology and literacy.

The Theme: 

It was a little last minute but there were a few teachers who were happy to help out.  My good friend and mentor, Dr. Susannah Richards, was kind enough to lend her colleagues and undergraduates to the cause.  I was even able to pester some writers into participating. (A very heartfelt thank you to Barbara O'Connor, Gareth Hinds, Audrey Vernick, and Jonathan Auxier).  

The kids were floored.  The loved the videos of their teachers and that would have been good enough.  The best part about the reaction to the authors; you would have thought they were movie stars or athletes.  I do a "Book News" Wednesday at snack each week and it's seemed to have payed off.  The students recognized the authors and their cultural status in the classroom matched that of any celebrity.  It was exciting to be a part of.  

With dropped jaws, all the kids asked how and, that itself, turned into a nice little mini-lesson: What is the responsible way to go about pestering people for favors?  I explained to them that I asked Barbara O'Connor only because she was visiting the school after vacation.  I asked Gareth Hinds because we've met on several occasions.  

Jonathan's story was a little different.  We had only recently connected through Twitter, but his first book is due out this fall.  I went out on a limb and asked for a favor from a relative stranger.  The reason being; I thought we could be helpful and generate some buzz around the book.  Oh, it worked.  The day before I showed the video, I showed the students Jonathan's website, The Scop, (they loved the "dress Jonathan up" feature in the about me.  Then, Bam!, I hit them with the delightful video he put together for us.  One student responded, "His book has to be good," referring to his comical nature.  

The final part to the lesson was where I showed the students Chris Barton's comment on a previous post.  I explained to them that just because somebody left a comment, it doesn't give me the right to ask for their time.  Author's are extremely busy folks and it's not very respectful to solicit favors from people you don't know very well.  

However, I do that exact thing to Audrey Vernick.  Audrey was kind enough to leave a comment and I hit her up.  I had to.  I have this lovely little girl my classroom who plays tackle football on an all-boy-except-her team and I thought The Effa Manley would resonate with her in particular, especially because her turning-point narrative was about how she discovered a lot about herself through playing football.  Sorry Audrey!

How Wonderful It Was

It was really wonderful, that's how wonderful it was.  The day flew by so quickly I didn't pick up my camera once.  Which I always have attached to me.  So you know I must have been having a blast.  It was a RYHOD for the ages.  Thank you to everybody who kindly lent their their time, it was truly a success.  

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