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Books for chidren, or random acts of literacy

By Guest blogger on Nov 18, 2011 02:28 PM

This guest blog post comes from Harvey Scribner, a teacher at University City High who just launched Random Acts of Literacy.


How many commuters in the Philadelphia area believe our children should read more? During an afternoon commute home from University City, I developed an idea to help children throughout our city access books.

Driving in on I-76 can be a monotonous, draining experience at 6:30 a.m. The blink of the stoplights, the rising sun in your face, and the coffee spilling while you brake. It is lonely and can be enough to drive you crazy. My solution was to start taking the train. I am living a greener, happier life, and it even costs less.

One day during my new commute, I was riding in the seat behind a cute kid.

He was playful and smiling as he tumbled and grunted in his seat. His mother was taking care of him, trying to study for class, and riding home from a long day at work. His playfulness reminded me of my own sons when they were younger, and his actions reminded me of a story I used to read to them, “How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?” by author Jane Yolen and illustrator Mark Teague.

He reminded me of a dinosaur from the book, and I was sure he would like the story just as much as my own children. I mentioned to his mother that I might have an extra copy of the book at home, and that I would put it in my bag in case I saw them again. A few weeks later, I had the chance to deliver the book and the boy was elated. He smiled and grabbed the book immediately. A few weeks later, I found out that the boy requests the book every night.

When I got home I told my wife what happened and how I could carry excess books in my bag each day to give to other children. We gathered a bin full that our children had outgrown. Luckily, my wife was also involved in a children’s sale at a local church the following weekend. The other organizers agreed to let me have any of the books that were not purchased.

I have been using that pile of books for a few months now. I usually keep three or four books in my bag on any given day. I have been able to quietly, politely, and efficiently deliver the books to any toddler or child on the train since then.

I say very little as I offer the book, and have not had anyone turn me down yet. I enjoy doing it so much that I created a website to get the word out. I thought that if every teacher in the city could duplicate my mission, if only once a year, that would be over 17,000 books in children’s hands.

My entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, and I tried to envision every commuter having an extra book with them. Imagine a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers or School District-sponsored event each year that placed stands in transportation centers to distribute books. Imagine kids being introduced to reading through a “Random Act of Literacy.”

My goal is to get books into kids' hands during a part of the day where they are sitting idle on a train, bus, car, or other vehicle and they need to expand their imagination.

It is a simple idea.

Every professional in the city should carry an extra book to distribute to a child at random. It is better than candy, cleaner than finger paints. It is portable and does not need batteries. And it can ignite a child’s imagination like nothing else. When I contacted the author of the book that started it all, she replied, “Neat idea,” and posted a note about the project on Facebook.

Get behind this idea and start handing out books today!

Harvey Scribner is a third-year teacher at The Promise Academy at University City High School. He is the Technology Teacher Leader and a business/technology teacher. Before teaching, he served on deployment with the PA National Guard and retired with more than 20 years of military service. He entered education through Troops To Teachers. Prior to teaching, he designed kitchens and built a career in sales and marketing in and around Philadelphia. Scribner is a husband, father, soldier, teacher, coach, scout leader, and active in his church. He grew up in the Upper Perkiomen School District and currently resides in Trooper, PA.


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Comments (11)

Submitted by Anonymous on November 18, 2011 4:42 pm

The U-city staff is so so proud of you. I sense a service project in our future.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on November 18, 2011 5:15 pm

Great Job Harvey!!! I love it sooooo much!

I ran the Reading program at U-City from 1976 to 1994 and you do me proud. I would have drafted you into our Reading Department real quick.

May I make a suggestion? Master the Art of losing books to children. (But don't tell the principal I said that.)

Keep up the Great work. Creativity is paramount in developing reading ability and the desire to read, and so is extensive reading.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 18, 2011 6:41 pm

Mr, Scribner is a friend and a natural leader. His passion for helping kids become educated is awe-inspiring. I am happy to be associated with his department at UCHS!

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on November 18, 2011 6:45 pm

And I am happy to hear so many good things about "Uni."

Back in the day it was a really cool school to work at with a bunch of Great teachers who did a whole lot of really good things for students.

I really hope your renewal works and it is restored to meet its original mission of being an innovative school that meets the needs of its students and its community.

Sometimes you have to reinvent what you, the teachers, want your school to be.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on November 18, 2011 9:06 pm

I also hope the best for Univ. City but it is a "promise academy" which means drill and kill / scripted / 7 step lessons over and over and over again.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on November 18, 2011 10:11 pm

That is precisely the point I was making, my friend. If 'Uni" really is going to "renew itself" it must return to a "collaborative model" and allow the teachers to do what they know is best for their students in their classes.

I was blessed to have worked during the "golden days" of education. We, as a team of reading specialists, created our own program. 'We" wrote the curriculum, designed the pedagogy, chose our own materials, chose our own pre tests and post tests, performed informal diagnosis of needs, and argued like hell over the best way to teach reading in high school.

Our materials were loaded with authentic materials at every level and interest area we could imagine. We threw "corrective reading kits" and SRA stuff in the back of our book room forevermore, never to return to our classrooms. We made reading and growing fun and relevant.

We arrived early to work, hung out in Mr D's classroom together before school, talked about our students, shared our work, taught all day, and went home feeling like professionals who were making a difference in our students' lives. Nobody told us to do that. We just did it because it was just what we did.

Uni was once a wonderful place to teach and learn, and I am sure it will one day return that way because it has good people in it like Mr. Scribner and his crew.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2011 3:10 am

This is just false. It's the same curriculum as other empowerment schools. This myth that Promise Academy = drill and kill was never true, at least at the high school level (at least at Uni). In fact, even last year, the DIstrict was surprisingly hands-off with respect to pedagogy, as long as there was a clear objective and the students were engaged.

Outside of Corrective Math/Reading, nothing is scripted, or ever was. (I don't agree with the Corrective classes, but they are no different in Promise Academies than they were implemented District-wide).

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2011 5:51 am

7 step lesson plan is drill and kill - yes, "empowerment schools" have to follow it too. 7 steps does restrict pedagogical decisions.

Don't "promise academies" have to put up particular posters? That's impacts pedagogical decisions.

Ackerman's damaging legacy is curricular - we are left with teachers who believe scripted curricula and drilling skills (7 step lessons) is teaching. I don't want my children - who are Philadelphia students - spending their entire day drilling skills in 7 step lessons.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 21, 2011 6:28 pm

The 7-step lesson plan is only drill and kill if those are the activities you use to fill it in. Most quality teachers do something very closely resembling the 7-step plan without calling it that. You have a clear objective for the day, focus students on it with some quick activity or hook, explain what the purpose fo the lesson is, teach something with whatever strategy you want (modeling, lecture, etc.), provide students a chance to practice it with guidance (could be drills, could be writing a paragraph with guidance, etc., discussion/debate), then give students something independent to do (writing without guidance, completing math problems on their own, etc.). I don't see what's all that restrictive about it. As a teacher and student at many levels from Kindergarten though grad school, I can't remember any instructors who were effective who didn't basically do those things.

There are slight variations, but it's only drill-and-kill in the hands of an administrator who doesn't really understand it. Most of the elements people complain about being rigid are things that a good teacher does anyway, without advertising that they are doing them. And insisting on drills as part of the practice is misunderstanding the purpose of the plan, not a fault in the plan itself.

To the extent that the plan promotes decreasing the level of scaffolding on a task to eventually release students to independent work, that's just good practice. That's basically how humans learn everything.

I think the problem in Philly is that many admins and walk-through people at the secondary level don't pay enough attention to notice the elements unless the teacher is super explicit about them, which is the cause of the obsession with superficial adherence the explicit elements of the plan. But the plan itself is basically just an articulation of a well-structured lesson.

Yes, there are posters that have to be put up. Big deal. Stick them in the corner if they aren't useful. If they are, then use them. It's a little annoying, but if I had to make a list of the problems facing me as a teacher, a few mandatory posters would be far, far, far down the list.

I agree that some aspects of Ackerman's legacy were awful pedagogically (i.e. the blanket implementation of the Corrective classes). But the Promise Academies weren't. They are heinously inefficient in their implementation, and the District sometimes overstates their gains, but, at least at the high school level, they were extremely sound pedagogically (I did more collaboration in one month in Promise Academy than in some entire school years in other schools.)

Submitted by QuiddityRox (not verified) on November 19, 2011 10:46 am

LOVE, LOVE, Love this idea!! Don't forget chapter books for the middle grade children who are commuting too!!

I'm so glad you wrote to share your idea.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on November 21, 2011 8:30 am

Ironically, I had dinner last night with the "Mr. D", Joe DiRaddo, I mentioned above who was one of the best reading teachers that ever taught at Uni. He turned 82 yesterday. Earlier, I had cleaned out my home office and happened across an old copy of our 16 page "Mastery Learning Reading Plan" we had collaboratively designed and implemented at Uni in 1985, and we shared the memories.

Interestingly, none of our 11 Goals even mentioned the word "standardized tests" or increasing standardized test scores even though we did use the CAT test for eligibility scores for our program. Not once were they mentioned.

Goal 2 stated: "To raise the reading level of every student as measured by informal teacher assessment;"

Goal 3 stated: "To increase the range of reading choices and frequency of reading;" (Harvey's goal)

Goal 10 stated: "To make maximum use of the reading staff's individual talents and areas of expertise by increasing staff involvement in the design, implementation and evaluation of the reading program;"

Our main lesson plan format was the "Directed Reading Activity" which is a five step lesson plan which focuses on development of factual and inferential comprehension through Socratic questioning.

I guarantee you we would have not tolerated anyone imposing "drill and kill" upon our students. I really hope our "new generation" of zealous teachers at Uni causes a true renaissance of teaching and learning at UNI.

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