Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Writing That's Relevant

This week, we kicked off one of my favorite activities – writing circles. For those of you familiar with book clubs or literature circles, writing circles follow the same premise: A small group gathering to discuss self-chosen text. With writing circles, students will be regularly meeting to share and offer feedback on writing. I love the feel of writing circles. First of all, they’re intimate. Because each group consists of only three to four students, individual voices are heard and validated. This is quite different from a whole-class discussion, where the more timid voices may be overpowered in the shuffle. Not only that, as the group members feel more comfortable with one another, they will be more willing to take risks with their writing. Secondly, writing circles are student-led. Each small group decides on its own writing topic, and each individual chooses his or her own genre. Additionally, after learning numerous types of positive response, writers will be able to select the type of feedback that best meets their needs. Finally, writing circles help students to become better writers. Kids are no longer writing for the teacher or the grade, but for an all-important audience of peers. Suddenly, they have a sense of purpose and commitment that transcends typical assignments.

Writing circles will meet approximately once a week, and will follow a specific format. To begin, each student will share the piece that he or she had been working on since the last meeting. After the piece has been shared, the other members of the group will take turns giving useful, positive feedback to the writer. Once this process has been completed for all members, the group will choose a new topic for the upcoming week. Students will write throughout the week and repeat the steps at their next meeting. After four or five meetings, writing circles will become publishing circles. At this point, students will select one of the pieces they have been working on for publication. After participating in revision, editing, and illustration conferences, the pieces will be ready to share with readers outside of the classroom.

The purpose of writing circles is to help students become better writers. It’s my hope that by putting kids in charge of their writing decisions, they will feel a stronger commitment to their work. Usually, relevancy results in higher quality writing. If nothing else, perhaps writing circles will help convince students that writing can be rewarding and fun!

photo credit: pigstubs via photopin cc

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Take It to the Next Level

First quarter grades are out, and you’ve had nine weeks to get used to the routine of sixth grade and your new classes. You’re feeling pretty good about your progress, but you want to take it to the next level. So what can you do?

Show up every day with all of your supplies. Whether you’ve forgotten a pen or need to return to your locker for your novel, if you don’t have everything you need, you are affecting your performance. Consider this: Mr. Dunning is teaching when suddenly you realize that you don’t have a pencil to write the notes. So that you won’t interrupt the class, you decide to ask one of your table mates to borrow a writing utensil. No harm done, right? Don’t be so sure. While you may not have distracted everyone in the room, the kids at your table just lost track of what the teacher was saying and may have missed important information. Of course, you could always ask to go to your locker, but what happens when you’re gone? Obviously, class continues. Even if you’re out of the room for only a few minutes, you will return to find yourself behind the rest of the group. As a result, either Mr. Dunning will have to stop and repeat what he has just said so that you are able to fully understand the activity, or you will need to disturb your table mates to find out what you missed. Neither situation seems fair to your teacher or your classmates. So what can you do to reduce forgotten supplies? To start, try not to throw things willy-nilly into your locker. Taking the extra few seconds to put books and binders away neatly will pay off the next time you visit your locker. How about arranging items on the shelves according to class? Keep the science binder with the science notebook and the novel you are reading with your English binder. Finally, don’t forget to take advantage of stocking and carrying your pencil case. That way, when your teacher asks you to take out your Sharpie, you are ready to go.

Be ready to do your best. We’ve all had days where we just don’t care. Whether we’re tired, bored, under the weather, or a little cranky, we don’t feel into it. There’s nothing unusual about those feelings; they happen to the best of us. It’s how you respond at times like those that can help you take your game to the next level. Students who are able to set aside what they want to do and focus on what they need to do, experience greater success in the classroom. Their performance is consistent and persistent and it results in greater progress.

Produce high-quality work — daily. Whatever the task may be, complete it neatly, carefully, and thoughtfully. To your teacher, it will be obvious that you take pride in everything you do. When you try to produce high-quality work, your handwriting is neat, your papers are not crumpled, and your projects do not appear as if they were done the night before class. Ask yourself: Am I proud of my work? Is it worthy of being put on public display? Could it be shown as an example to other students? If you can’t answer those questions with a resounding yes, it might be time to redouble your efforts.

Go beyond what the teacher expects. When you’re asked to write one half of a page, what’s stopping you from writing a whole one? If your project requires at least three examples from the text, why not use four? You have a presentation to give in history, did you memorize it without being asked? Your teacher will be impressed by your initiative, and more importantly, your learning will increase. Remember, if you’re only completing the minimum, you can’t expect to earn the maximum.

Set reasonable, sustainable goals. Maybe you’re interested and a little inspired. You’ve realized it’s time to step up your game. Start small. By setting goals that are realistic, you will lessen the chance of failure. Deciding that you will read 30 minutes every night, when you’re currently reading 30 minutes in a week, is a pretty tall order. Your chances of immediately implementing that change, and then sticking with it, are slim. Make incremental changes that allow you to experience regular success. Eventually, you could be reading 30 minutes a night, and your new habit will be more likely to stick.

It’s the beginning of another quarter and a fresh start. Are you truly content with your progress? Let’s face it, even the best of us can find ways to improve and reach the next level. I hope you will make the decision to grow. By reflecting and making changes, you can reach your full potential.

photo credit: Paxson Woelber via photopin cc

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Report Card Comments from a Can?

At my former school, report card writing was an easy task: calculate the grade and check the boxes for the corresponding canned comments. I could write report cards for all 150 of my students in just a few hours, and I thought I loved the system. Not because it was in the best interest of my students, mind you, but because it was easy and required minimal time commitment. Selfish, I know, but not illogical. Coming up with all of those comments from scratch would have been a laborious and time-consuming process.

My first year at USM, I was introduced to writing report card comments from scratch. No template, no prewritten quips to copy and paste, just a blank, ominous computer screen. I sought the advice of my peers, and while they were exceedingly helpful and offered useful advice, I was overwhelmed. Other than my master’s action research project, that first set of comments was the most challenging thing I had ever written. But, I was rewarded when I finished. As a result of the reflective process that was necessary to creating a thoughtful and accurate comment, I knew my students comprehensively. And, while looking at kids individually, group patterns started to emerge as well. It became clear where my instruction had been effective and where it had fallen flat. I had no choice but to reevaluate my methods, and I became a more contemplative teacher because of the process.

Since that first year, I am more intentional in the way I gather data about my students. Each child has a digital folder in which I save notes from our one-on-one meetings, copies of written feedback that I have provided on their writing, and examples of their most recent work. This has improved the efficiency of my comment writing. What’s even more important is a side effect of creating these digital records: As I gather information, I am able to analyze it, meet individual needs, and adjust my instruction on the fly.

While comment writing may never be easy for me, it will always be valuable. It has made me a more reflective and purposeful teacher, not just for two weeks in October and February, but for the whole year. And, though I’m relieved each time I finish another round, I don’t miss the canned comments. Frankly, they don’t do a student justice.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

From the Makerspace to Language Arts

Two weeks ago, I received a much-anticipated package from Amazon - a wireless document camera! I was excited by the possibility of being able to mark-up a book or write in my Writer's Notebook and have it project to my whiteboard. Unfortunately, the camera did not play well with my Apple TV, and I could not get it to project wirelessly. I had to send the device back. Needless to say, I was bummed; until I ran into Mr. Mussoline. Rather than viewing my issue as a setback, he took it as an opportunity to exploit the potential of our makerspace, Nerdvana.

Together, we planned to have students compete in teams to create a document camera stand for my iPad. The makerspace would provide all of the parts and tools, and the kids would supply their ingenuity and know-how. Through a first come, first served process, three students from each advising class signed up to build a device that would allow my iPad to function as a document camera.

Click for photo gallery

During two days of Community Time last week, the teams of students planned, gathered materials, and constructed their document camera stands. Mr. Mussoline and I helped them only when they needed assistance operating a tool, otherwise we let them explore and learn on their own. It was a powerful experience, and the excitement was palpable as kids measured, sawed, and drilled. Over and over again, they tried ideas and made adjustments in order to make their visions a reality. I was astounded by the level of engagement with the project as well as the students' perseverance in making their team's product the best one. In the end, all four document camera stands made it to completion with varying degrees of success. Yet, it wasn't really about the final product, it was the process. Kids were there because they wanted to be there, not because they were forced to comply. They were encouraged to follow their instincts and use their individual strengths in order to meet the expectations of the activity. And, they were allowed to fail with the chance to recover.

I'm not sure who took away more from the experience. In those two days, I learned more about passion, choice, and coaching than I ever expected. Now, it's time to figure out how to bring those insights to my English classroom.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Homework: Great Idea or a Waste of Time?

photo credit: ** RCB ** via photopincc

At this point in the year, your child's routines both in and out of school, should be starting to fall in place. Granted, there may be some tweaking necessary, many of us are beginning to notice certain patterns. At my house, we've realized that the success of our morning routine is dependent on what happens the previous evening. If the coffee maker is programmed, the snacks and water bottles are lined up on the counter, and the boys' clothes are laid out, my wife and I are less stressed in the morning, as are my boys. Unfortunately, even the best plans can be derailed by unforeseen circumstances, or when everyone is not on top of their game at six in the morning. One thing we've realized, though, is that routines are an important part of functioning efficiently and staying prepared.

Homework is one of those routines of which you and your child are intimately familiar. For a few lucky parents, getting their kids to study has never been an issue. For others, it has been a constant, stressful battle that ends with arguments and tears. My second-grade son started receiving homework last year, and while he doesn't mind parts of it, he absolutely hates others. The frustration that can arise from getting our children to complete their homework thoughtfully, neatly, and on time sometimes begs the question: Is homework beneficial?

On Saturday, I took the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other educators from the region by attending an EdCamp in Palatine, Illinois. The beauty of EdCamp is in that way that it's organized - there is no preset agenda. Instead, it is determined by the attendees, in the moment. At one point in the day, I met with a group of educators who wanted to discuss the validity of homework. Those involved in the conversation were evenly split regarding its necessity. Some believed that it provided additional and necessary practice, while others thought it to be nothing more than busy work. One teacher pointed out that homework teaches valuable life skills, like responsibility and grit. Another claimed that kids already had too much to do after school with things like sports, instrument lessons, and chores filling an evening. In the end, it was difficult to reach an agreement other than to say that homework should be reasonable and meaningful.

By the end of the week, you can expect to see regular homework from me. Typically, it will be reading in order to be prepared for class the next day. Occasionally, it will be work that was not finished in class. Still, I'm curious. What are your thoughts about homework? Feel free to share your comments.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Unknown Spherical Objects

Closely Examining the Unknown Spherical Object
  Click for photo gallery
At first blush, it may not seem that science and language arts have much in common.  How do precise measurements and careful observations connect with elaboration and word choice? Much more closely than you think. Whether a physicist is attempting to reproduce the experiment of another, or a poet is trying to capture the beauty of the summer sunrise, details and language are key to both disciplines. Take a moment to read any of the writings of Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau,
John James Audubon, or Rachel Carson and you will  find yourself immersed in writing that is meticulously poetic.

Mrs. Fultz and I decided to take advantage of the similarities of our disciplines by focusing on the power of the written word to explain and describe. In her agents' Mission Logs and Writer's Notebooks, we realized there was a need for more detailed and elaborated writing. Mrs. Fultz wanted clear and concise log entries, and I wanted writers to create pictures using words.

This fall, in both classes, students made observations of the world around them. Science classes used USM's beautiful campus to record the details of trees, birds, and flowers. Sentences and phrases from the students' Mission Logs were used in language arts as models and as starting points for revising general details into specific ones. In my class, students were asked to look closely at an intimately familiar object - the orange - with one caveat: They had to pretend that this was their first encounter with the 'Unknown Spherical Object', and that this was an agent training module for their science class. They were charged with qualitatively describing their unusual find. For two days, agents explored the USOs using their five senses. They documented the outside and dissected the inside, without ever referring to it as an orange. Finally, students began to compose entries in their Writer's Notebooks that would thoroughly describe their objects. At the same time, in science, the USOs were being described quantitatively. Measurements were made, and numbers were crunched in an effort to scientifically define the sphere.

So far, the students have enjoyed the challenging activity. Not only that, but my classroom has smelled fantastic! Mrs. Fultz and I look forward to working with the agents to revise and add even more specific details to their science and English writing. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Hunger and Homelessness PSAs

Click for gallery.

This week, as part of our focus on the Hope House service project, the sixth graders were charged with creating public service announcements, or PSAs.  During Reading/Writing Lab, they viewed a series of powerful and iconic ads from Smokey the Bear asking us to prevent forest fires, to BMW imploring motorists not to text and drive.  The kids determined the purpose and audience for each example and, after examining all of them, generated a list of common attributes.  Once back in their advising classes, students formed small groups, determined an audience and purpose for creating their own PSAs, and created mockups.  With some revision and fine-tuning, the groups went on to create posters that were hung throughout the school.  The kids hope that they will draw attention to their causes and inspire some action!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Two Sendik's Bags

Each year, sixth grade students partner with the Hope House of Milwaukee for their service project, "Food for the Hungry."  Using their own money, they purchase food to be donated to the organization. In addition to creating grocery lists, clipping coupons, and shopping at the Mequon Piggly Wiggly, students also receive content-related instruction in their classes.  Lessons could include a unit on nutrition in science, the history of food in social studies, or the mathematics of poverty.  In English, students were asked to focus on a statement made by Ken Schmidt, director of Hope House of Milwaukee.  Mr. Schmidt helped us to kick-off the project by visiting on April 3 and discussed with the kids the organization and its mission.  While here, he stated that many clients of Hope House carry all of their belongings in two plastic grocery bags.  That statement resonated with me, and I was inspired to create a reflective activity.

Click for Photo Gallery
In class, students brainstormed lists of their most prized possessions.  They focused on items that were irreplaceable or held great sentimental value.  Then, I showed them two Sendik's grocery bags and reminded them of what Mr. Schmidt had said during his visit.   For homework, students were to pack what they could into two Sendik's plastic bags (or the like).  I emphasized that they needed to think and choose carefully, as they would have to leave everything else behind.  It was important for them to imagine that this would be a permanent decision; they could never go back.  Students used the following guidelines when they were packing their bags:
  • What holds the most meaning for you?
  • What can be easily transported with minimal effort?
  • What is a necessity (meaning you need it)?
  • What can you live without?
  • No animals!
The next day, students shared what they brought.  Not surprisingly, many packed nonessential items: a favorite jersey, a dearly loved stuffed animal, and a remote control car made the cut.  Some, though, considered survival and packed winter coats, hats, extra shoes, and water bottles.  After students shared, we considered what it would be like to make the difficult choice between keeping the stuffed animal or making room for a pair of gloves.  Decisions like these are made regularly by thousands of people each day:  Do I pay the rent this month or buy groceries for the week?  Should I send in the electric bill or get food for dinner?  After the discussion, students posted their reflections to Kidblog.

Students began to feel empathy for those whose situations required these difficult decisions.  Here's what they said:

"We are used to so having much stuff that we can’t imagine living in two small plastic bags." 

"I now know how it feels to have your whole life just in two bags." 

"I learned that doing this activity was not only hard, but frustrating, so I cannot imagine what it would be like having to do this for real."

"I learned that being homeless is a very tough challenge, and I want to help the cause."

"...I can’t believe that many people have to go through this."

"If you think about it, we didn’t have to worry to much about what we brought, but real people are faced with these choices. Do I bring my water bottle and food, or do I bring my photo book filled with memories? What would you choose?"

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

5 Good Reasons to Take Your Kids to the Library Today | Christine French Cully

Check out this great article by the Huffington Post on why kids need to go to the library.  My family and I make regular trips to our small, neighborhood, storefront library and are never let down.  From the latest titles, to movies and music, we always walk away with our arms loaded.  If you haven't had a chance to explore your neighborhood library lately, take your kids this weekend, or even today!  It's a great place to explore, read, and learn responsibility.  Plus, it's free!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Writing Across the Divide

Shortly before Spring Break, the second grade team reached out to the middle school teachers in search of pen pals. How could I not respond? Seventh and eight grade language arts classes paired with Mrs. Edwards and Mr. Engroff, and I partnered with Mrs. Feldner. We planned a series of three transactions as well as a culminating celebration in which the pen pals could meet one another. I didn’t have to sell the opportunity to my students. Even though there would be no grade or extra credit, I had over 30 volunteers who were interested in writing for the sheer enjoyment of it. Due to Mrs. Feldner having 17 students, it was necessary to randomly choose the pals.

About a week before break, my students received their first letters. Meticulously written in cursive, some of my writers were a little intimidated. One boy even asked if he would have to respond in cursive. There was more than a hint of fear in his voice. After outlining the expectations of the project, the sixth grade volunteers drafted a response, reviewed it with a peer, and submitted it to me for final approval. Letters were dropped in the mail the week before break – I’m sure the second graders were anxious to hear back. My students can’t wait for the next correspondence to arrive in the mail!

I am thrilled with the chance to work across the divisions. It brings students closer together and creates meaningful connections between colleagues. From an English teacher’s standpoint, it provides an opportunity for students to write for a real and relevant audience. I observed students working thoughtfully and carefully. It is my hope that Mrs. Feldner and I have started a tradition – one that will last for many years to come.

photo credit: 臺中市頭家國民小學 Tuojia Elementary Scho via photopin cc

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Infographics and the Water Crisis

Table Etiquette Infographic

For about a year now, I have been enamored with the infographic.  I absolutely love these visual displays of information.  If you aren't familiar with the infographic, have a little fun today - Google the term and see what you find.  Then, Google it with the name of a topic, like 'shark' and 'infographic'.   I guarantee you will will find yourself lost in a visual feast of engaging facts, many of which you should know, and many that are unnecessary, yet fun.  One of the many things I like about the infographic is its ability to condense what would be large amounts of text into reasonable chunks of words and illustrations.  It makes learning fun!

The Secret Life of Drinking Water

While designing our persuasive writing unit, I kept this in mind.  One of my goals was to get students engaged deeply in a topic that they hadn't necessarily given significant thought to before.  Since infographics about table etiquette and the snowy owl captivated me every time, I figured it might work with the kids.  For this particular exercise, I chose water; something we regularly take for granted.  I shared four different infographics that I wanted them to consider: How Much Water is Your Home Wasting?, The Miracle of Water, The Secret Life of Water, and Why Water Matters.  The kids were given a graphic organizer to pull out the main details of each, as well as to help them write summaries.  In partners, they analyzed, made judgements, and compiled the information.  Not surprisingly, like me, they were astounded by what they learned.  Did you know that every 20 seconds a child dies from a water-related sickness?

The next step will be for the students to create a persuasive paragraph based on what they have learned.  I suspect that many will write impassioned pleas to change the world.  That's great!  While not everyone may have a realistic solution, they will still be practicing the art of argument.  In the future, I may even have them create their own infographics.  There are many great, free resources out there and the possibilities would be endless!


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bringing Writing to Life

It started this week!  Two sections of English had their first chance to use Kidblog in my class (the other two will next week).  We began by selecting avatars and tweaking our usernames - no last names, correct capitalization, please!  Who would have imagined that choosing an avatar could be such a time-consuming process? Because our first few forays in blogging will be facilitated by me, I introduced the kids to this week's online discussion:  Is it acceptable for teachers to friend students on Facebook or other social media sites (Instagram, Vine, etc.)?  Why or why not?  Of course, many kids had an immediate and strong opinion, but I wanted to them to think.  Before they were allowed to write any responses on the blog, they were expected to formulate their ideas, with at least two strong reasons, and share them with multiple partners.  This sharing activity helped them to think logically and reasonably.  Following the partner discussions, I reviewed my writing expectations: complete sentences; correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar; and no texting dialect.  I also asked them to draft their response to the question in Pages, first.  Once the drafts were ready, kids copied and pasted them in Kidblog and we were rolling.  Students participated in a series of responses and replies as they engaged in a digital conversation.  It may have been one of the quietest 30 minutes in my room this year!

I was thrilled with the day's activities, but I am even more excited about the future of blogging in my classroom.  As kids become more proficient with the process, I plan to release control of the discussion.  I want the students to see themselves as passionate individuals who have something to say to their peers.  It is my hope, that by the end of the semester, kids will be writing their own posts and commenting on one another's ideas without relying on a topic suggestion from me.  It will be even more powerful when the sixth graders start to hear from others around the country.  I can't imagine a more motivating experience than writing for an authentic audience.  Finally, those words will come alive as they inspire discussion and debate!  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Group Projects and Individual Accountability

Before Winter Break, the kids began the study of Greek mythology.  Not only is it a massive undertaking, it is also a complicated one.  The gods have tangled family trees, and the myths are often inconsistent from one source to another.  This year, rather than deluging the kids with copious amounts of information, I was inspired to approach the unit from another angle.  Why not divide the material among small groups and let them teach their classmates?  With that in mind, I split the grade into 20 small groups, charging each with developing the 'criminal profile' of their assigned mythical character.  For those of you familiar with mythology, its cast of characters struggles to make ethically sound decisions.  My feeling was that we could study those choices, learn about the gods, and explore the relevancy of stories that are thousands of years old.

Year after year, I have heard from students who have legitimate concerns when it comes to assessing group work.  Usually the complaint is that one student has done most of the work while another student has done very little.  Obviously, this is a problem because inherent in group work is a group assessment.  So, if the final product is worthy of an 'A', how can I ensure that all members are getting a fair grade?  There are a number of different methods that can be employed to address this issue.  One way is through self-assessment and reflection.  Group members assess themselves, each other, and then write a reflection of their contributions to the project.  I was taught another one this summer during the project-based learning conference here at USM.  Teachers from High Tech High in San Diego demonstrated how they hold individuals accountable within a group.  I have decided to adopt their method.

Here's how it works.  For the mythology project, each group is responsible for a number of deliverables.  These are the various components that make the greater whole.  In this case, groups need to complete a wanted poster, a criminal profile, and a screencast.  Let's consider creating the wanted poster, which involves the requisite research, source comparison, and note taking.  After students were given instruction, an example, and rubrics, they were required to create their own individual drafts of the poster.  Those drafts were brought to class for peer and teacher feedback.  The kids were given time to make revisions to their work, and the finished individual posters were submitted to me for grading.  Once returned, the group is expected create one poster that reflects the best of each of the individual submissions.  In this process, the students will receive two grades.  The first will be for their individual poster, while the second will be for the group product.  In this manner, members from the group will not be earning the same grades, but rather ones that reflect individual accountability. High Tech High teachers have found that this method holds students accountable to the group and tends to distribute responsibility more equitably.  I believe that they may be on to something.  Overall, the individual wanted poster submissions demonstrated thoughtfulness and care.  Now, I am looking forward to seeing if the group effort follows suit.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Are You Living in a Reading Desert or Oasis?

Last week, I finished reading Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley's latest book, Reading in the Wild.  Largely, the book's audience is teachers and it delivers invaluable strategies, resources, and lesson plans designed to help students develop lifelong reading habits.  There are takeaways for others, too.  In particular, Miller and Kelley dedicate a chapter to finding time to read, and their advice should be heeded by us all.  

I love to read.  In fact, when I think of nouns that describe me, reader is one that comes to mind.  As an avid reader, I have set aside a time and a place for reading - every night before I fall asleep.  This has become habit for me and is as much a part of my nightly routine as brushing my teeth.  No matter how busy my day has been or how late it is, I never go to bed without reading.  Some nights, I make it five minutes before I can no longer keep my eyelids open.  Other nights, I have to put down the book and turn out the light, or I will read until the alarm goes off.  I would love to be able to read at other times, but it seems that life gets in the way.  Playing with the kids, running errands, and general house upkeep whittle away at my free time.  And, to be honest, when I do have a minute, I am on that confounded iPad!  There are messages and emails, status updates on Facebook, and 50,000 new tweets that all require my immediate attention.  Finally, after the kids are in bed, I just want to unwind on the couch with the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory.  

Interestingly, as much as I beg, plead, and implore my students to read outside of school, some just can’t find the time.  Like me, their lives get in the way.  From gymnastics on Mondays and Wednesdays, piano lessons on Tuesdays, basketball practices on Thursdays and Fridays, to games on Saturdays, there seems to be no room for reading.  Plus, there is all of that homework!  For better or worse, when kids get a moment, they do what I do - check their devices or watch TV.  Unlike me, however, few students have established a daily reading habit, and enjoying a good book only happens inconsistently at school.  

Miller and Kelley argue that there is plenty of time left for reading in both the kids’ schedules and in mine.  We need to do two things: take advantage of edge time and prepare for reading emergencies.  According to the authors, edge time is the wasted time between our commitments.  It’s the time that we use to check Instagram or like another cat video on Facebook.  Reading emergencies, on the other hand, occur when we get stuck somewhere waiting longer than we had planned.  In order to take advantage of these missed opportunities, the kids and I need to take inventory of our time.  Is there edge time on the bus on the way to school?  How about at the end of the day in the car circle? Do we sit at our appointments and fiddle mindlessly with our smartphones?  What happens during the time before Mom comes home and asks about tonight’s homework?  Is it necessary to check the Biebs’s Twitter feed right now?  Is it crucial to watch the computer while it downloads that game?   

With the new year comes new opportunity.  I am going to challenge myself to carry a book with me in case of a reading emergency.  Likewise, I plan to be more aware of my edge time and evaluate how I spend it.  For me, it’s time to develop a new, healthy habit.  I challenge you and your children to do the same.  I would venture to say that most of us are surrounded by, or have access to, many, many books.  The question is, are we flourishing in a reading oasis or starving ourselves in a reading desert?