Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Power of Print

Yesterday was an exciting day for me! The Fed Ex truck pulled up while I was eating breakfast and delivered 3 heavy boxes. My newly published book, Laura Candler's PowerReading Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide had arrived! This book was published last year in ebook form as Empowering Readers: A Quick Start Guide to Reading Workshop, but it was revised and updated in 2011 and given a new name. Seeing it in print for the first time was a special moment for me.

What is it about a print version of a book that makes it seem so much more real than an ebook? Is it the fact that I grew up as a voracious reader and constantly had a book in my hands? Perhaps the sensation of holding a physical book is similar to the "comfort food" feeling of eating forbidden homemade treats I once enjoyed. Print books recall those happy childhood years I spent discovering the joys of reading.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge fan of ebooks - I love the fact that they don't take up space on my shelf and I don't lose them. I've been writing ebooks for the last 3 years and I've been purchasing them longer than that, so I obviously see the value in them. In fact, Power Reading Workshop is available in digital form because ebooks are so darned convenient! But there's still something about a print book that grabs me. I wonder if children born today will have the same affinity for print books? Somehow I think not. Their "comfort book" feeling will be related to holding an eReader of some sort!

As I hold my first print first copy of Power Reading Workshop, I'm filled with gratitude for the many inspiring books that convinced me to try reading workshop, books like Steven Layne's Igniting a Passion for Reading and Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer. I'm also grateful for the teachers who field-tested the strategies in Power Reading Workshop with their students and helped me fine-tune the program.

As an avid reader myself, it saddens me that many of today's kids haven't discovered the joys of reading. So when I discovered the power of this approach a few years ago, I knew I had to share with others, especially upper elementary teachers like myself, teachers who would appreciate step-by-step directions for implementing reading workshop.  I set up a discussion group called Empowering Readers to help me tweak the process, and I'm indebted to those teachers for the terrific ideas they shared and the solid advice they gave me. Now that many of them have wrapped up a year of reading workshop, it's been extremely gratifying to read the success stories that have been sent to the group - stories of kids who love to read AND who have made tremendous growth on state reading tests.

Reading Workshop really does work! The method works when kids are reading print books, and it will work just fine when print books no longer exist. But in the meantime, I'll treasure my very first print copy of Power Reading Workshop!

Note: If you would like to learn more about this approach, I invite you to join me in a webinar on reading workshop to be held July 21st. Visit my webinar page on Teaching Resources for more information and to register.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reading the Educational River

Yesterday my husband Marco and I ventured out before the heat of the day to kayak a quiet stretch of the Lumber River.  It’s a beautiful, shady river that winds its way through rural North Carolina, and the current is swift enough to offer a challenge without being dangerous.

One thing I love about kayaking is that within moments of sliding my kayak into the water, my stress levels drop to zero and my creative energies begin to flow. There’s something about the quiet stillness of the morning and the water swirling around my paddle that frees my thoughts to wander. 

Yesterday I reflected on how each kayaking trip is a new adventure. After heavy rains, the water is high and flows over every sandbar, stump, or fallen log. Kayaking in high water takes energy, but it’s not difficult to make progress, even padding upstream.

However, when the water is low, navigating the river takes skill and finesse rather than muscle power. You have to work hard, but it’s a different kind of work. You’ve got to read the river and anticipate obstacles lurking beneath the surface. It’s trickier, but successfully navigating the river when it’s low is far more interesting and rewarding than when the water is high.  

As I paddled along yesterday, my thoughts began meandering like the lazy river. Always seeking connections, I reflected on how kayaking is like teaching. When the educational funding flows freely and our students are motivated, we have to work hard but it’s not difficult to make progress. If we put in the time and energy, we’ll see results.

Not so in a down economy or when we have difficult students. When the money isn't flowing or we lack support and resources, the challenges are much greater. Working harder won't necessarily yield results - we have to "read the river" to figure out what our students need and how to make sure their needs are met. Creative thinking trumps time and energy when times are tough. Making progress is more difficult, but it's also more rewarding.

As I pondered the mysteries of teaching and kayaking, my thoughts drifted to my own teaching career. Last September, after 29 years of teaching, I retired from the classroom with plans to return full time this August. I love working with kids and wasn't ready to retire for good, but I was overwhelmed in my roles as teacher, author, and webmaster of Teaching Resources.

Unfortunately, due to the current economic situation, it looks like I won't be returning to the classroom this fall as planned. I have mixed feelings about this turn of events because I really miss working directly with students. However, I've "read my own river" and the signs are pretty clear for the 2011 - 2012 school year. 

I believe that one day I'll be back in the classroom, but for now I'll focus on making a difference in other ways. I have to admit that I'll have more time to create new teaching resources, and I'll have time to collaborate with educators through webinars and workshops. I'll be able to finish my current book project and start a new one. I'm an avid reader, so I'll definitely devote more time to my neglected Kindle library. Best of all, Marco and I will have a little more time for kayaking! Life is good!