In the Educator Spotlight today – literacy specialist Michele Knott!
Hi everyone! Thanks, MGBookVillage, for welcoming me. My name is Michele Knott, I’m a K-4 literacy specialist at a school in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I’ve been in this position since 2004. Before that, I was a classroom teacher, spending time in PreK-2nd grade classrooms. I never stayed in a grade level for more than three years before needing a change, yet I’ve been in my current position for 14 years. Every year has been different – no getting bored in this position! I spend part of my day working with intervention students, part of my day working with teachers and all of my day getting books into hands of readers!
My love of reading began at a very young age. I can remember my dad reading to me – picture books, chapter books – and he always changed his voice to match the characters. He showed me the power of stories and what it’s like to fall into one. It wasn’t long before I had a library card and I memorized where all of my favorite books were located. It was here at the library that I learned not only could I find books, I also learned that these books had a wonderful smell! I always thought it enhanced the story if it was a really good smelling book! I taught my sister how to sniff – little did I know that I would find other nerds that did the same thing! I also was brought to bookstores – B. Dalton and Kroch’s and Brentano’s were the stores in my day – and I remember calling them to find out if they got the new Babysitter’s Club book and then eventually the new Sweet Valley High book in.
Books and stories permeated my childhood. It wasn’t enough to read them, they were also part of my playtime. I remember setting up libraries and making library cards and having that all important date stamp to use. It wasn’t the one that “real” libraries had at the time – the one you pushed and it clicked and made that satisfying sound. I could only manipulate the date, stamp it with ink and put it on the paper. But it was something. And no at-home library was complete without signs and other notifications that were typed up on my blue typewriter. I felt real important clicking and clacking away on those keys. I also remember hours of time spent playing with my sister as we pretended we were at a boarding school and we would carry around our books, going to classes, trying to escape from the evil principal – Mrs. Scardina – and the evil Guard Cincinnati. Somehow this plot loosely came from a book I was reading at the time – Ghost Host – and we embellished and made it our own.
Then came the teenage years when I moved on to books that were more edgy and made me feel older. I snuck into my mom’s library books from time to time but more often than not they bored me. V.C. Andrews became a favorite in upper middle school and carried me through high school.
And then there were the notorious quiet years. When reading was for a purpose, not for fun. When reading was given to you, no choice involved. Never enjoyment, always with set answers.
But the good years came back. When I first started teaching, I read picture books everyday to my classes. They took home book bags filled with books and activities to enrich their home lives. I started building my classroom library – thank goodness for bonus points – and added books to my mentor texts collection. I remember collecting books to use with science and social studies lessons, knowing picture books would captivate my readers way more than a textbook would.
As I moved into the reading specialist role, I knew getting books into the hands of readers mattered. We had book checkout every Friday. All week long they spent reading books that were part of an intervention program, they needed choice in their reading diet.
And then RTI happened. You know how you can take a good thing and do it wrong? That was the start of our journey. We moved to interventions that were too involved, too not what these kids needed, and not enough actual reading. But they were all research based programs, they had to work, right?
I’m not going to lie. It took me way too long to realize the error of my ways. That kids who read slowly, don’t need to sit in front of a computer and practice reading a passage three times in a row so they get faster. That kids who have trouble answering comprehension questions need more than reading passages and answering questions. That kids who have trouble decoding need more practice than skywriting or writing words in isolation.
These kids needed books. They needed to hear books read to them. They needed to fall in love with characters or gasp when an unexpected event happened in their story. They needed to bring home books that they chose and read from them every night. They needed to read and read and read and when they loved what they read they did that no problem. They needed to have conversations with others around them and talk about what they were wondering about or could you believe this happened or what confused them.
The more we did this, the smaller my groups got. The students I see now are students with true reading difficulties. But that doesn’t stop them from checking out books every Friday, or any day they need one. That doesn’t stop me from continuing to build a library that has books that can provide windows and doors to all readers that come in to check-out. That doesn’t stop us from reading out loud together to enjoy books, discover books and fall in love with reading, even when it’s hard. These kids have access to books in their classroom, in my classroom, in our school library. They are readers.
I won’t lie and say I’ve made all of my students become lifelong readers. If you give some of them a choice, independent reading still doesn’t fall high on their list. But they’ve all had positive reading experiences. And if we can keep giving them that, I can only hope it’s enough to keep them going.
Why do I think about this? Because I had a literacy-rich upbringing. I had access to books, I was read to, I was encouraged to read. Not only did I read books, they also were an integral part of my play. I had positive experiences that lead me to being a lifelong reader. But not all of our students have that. And there is so much they have to learn in a school day, month, year. There are so many standards and expectations for us to teach, that sometimes, it’s easy to pass on those things we can do help facilitate those experiences.
I believe thinking about literacy journeys and reflecting on them are important. When I started writing this post, I wasn’t sure what direction I was headed toward. It seemed important to share a glimpse of my own literacy life. I could have told you about my favorite middle grade book (Snicker of Magic) or how finding Harry Potter brought me back to reading kidlit, but somehow knowing I played library or that a middle grade novel inspired a whole new pretend game seemed even more important. And maybe playing library won’t win out over sports or video games, but plant a seed. Let’s grow those readers.
Want more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!