What works: The elements of an amazing all-school read
An all-school read that’s really all-school — where every adult in the building reads a book in company with every student — says something about community. That has struck me when I’ve visited middle schools that have done one-school, one-book projects with The Revealers. This is not an assignment given to kids by adults; it’s a project that people all do together.
This is powerful, when done well. Last month I saw it done extraordinarily well.
This was Ritenour’s first effort to do an all-school read, Lisa told me. Organizers first secured a small grant from Midwest Service Group, a St. Louis asbestos-abatement firm. That bought 90 copies of the novel, which they gave to virtually every adult in the building — teachers, office personnel, the cafeteria ladies, everyone.
Non-teaching staff were encouraged to become guest readers in classrooms. “Some teachers had their kids write invitations to certain people,” Lisa said. One class welcomed a series of guest readers.
Organizers wrote letters of invitation to the mayor, the Fire Department, the St. Louis Rams and Cardinals, local police, and others. An area police chief came in to read; so did six firemen, though they had to rush out on a fire call. The schools superintendent read at two sessions. Jeri Schneider, whose husband is the local mayor, came in five times representing the local Pride and Promise Foundation, which also contributed grant funding.
In what Lisa called an “active read-aloud,” The Revealers was read to grades 6-8 during RMS’s daily, 25-minute intervention/enrichment period. A professional-development session had introduced all the building’s teachers to a sequence of weekly activities designed to engage students at each level.
“I broke it down by week,” Lisa said, “with vocab words on bullying and two strategies each week that focused on questioning and making inferences. We also included a weekly reflection sheet for the kids. What predictions did you have? Can you summarize what happened in the story this week?”
“One of the best practices our teachers are learning about right now is Systems Thinking,” Lisa explained. This focuses on understanding how each element of a system influences other elements along with the whole. “One strategy is to track behavior over time. We can apply that easily in reading, with characters.” Using "Behavior over Time" graphs, each grade was asked to focus on, and chart, specific behaviors showing emotional states for two characters — for example, Russell, the novel’s narrator, and Richie, the older boy who, at first, bullies him.
“One teacher did ‘Lonely’ with her class,” Lisa explained. “For Russell and Richie, each day they tracked how lonely they felt. You make one chart for the class, and you ask: How miserable is Russell today? It can lead to really good discussions.”
RMS is also working with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, “so the two [projects] kind of intertwined for the kids,” Lisa said. “They supported each other so well, that it all sort of went together.”
On December 17, I talked with all three grades on a rich, full day that concluded with the school’s first-ever Family Reading Night — another program very creatively put together. In the school gym that evening, after my brief talk to parents and students, everyone was invited to rotate through several stations set up around the floor. These included a 10-question quiz on The Revealers, which kids filled out with their parents and turned in to win a root beer (the soda that, in the story, Richie pours over Russell’s head).
There was a reader’s theater, where you could act out one of three typed-up scenes from the book, including one where Elliot Gekewicz dumps his lunch on one of his tormentors. There was a “book walk,” featuring a selection of contemporary anti-bullying songs from artists like Bruno Mars: when the music stopped, everyone who was standing on the number they’d drawn won a copy of True Shoes, my Revealers sequel. There was a “Say Anything” banner, on which kids signed their names and wrote what they’d like to do about this issue; and the county library’s youth programs coordinator offered a table full of information and signup sheets.
Overall, Lisa told me, the first key to making RMS's project work so well was "having a group of committed, very dedicated teachers work together, to make it all happen. "When many people read the same book and start talking about it, and especially when students can connect with the characters, that’s what starts the conversation.
"Students said they liked being able to talk about the same book outside of school, even with friends in different grades. That was a prime example that it was worth reading and talking about, for them — that it was having an impact on their lives. We also got the Student Council and National Juniors Honors Society members involved in putting up bulletin boards, and setting up and cleaning up on family night. In the future, we'd like them to be more involved in the planning and book selection, too."
In followup, students wrote thank-you notes — to the grant providers, to the organizers, to supporters who’d donated my flight and hotel stay. Also, a survey of students sought their responses and feedback.
“As I read through the students’ survey responses and their thank-you notes, their voices exuded a sense of empowerment,” Lisa wrote to me after our conversation. “Many students shared their experiences with bullying, and began to truly reflect on their experiences. Some have even tried to start their own 'Revealers' newsletter! They are noticing the bullying that goes on around them, and seem more willing to follow their instincts to stand up and do the right thing.”