Reading is reading. Just help students find a book they love. Todd Nesloney

How a school threw out their reading program and finally got everyone excited about reading.

No trinkets. No prizes. No book levels. One school led by Principal Todd Nesloney got rid of it all. Every teacher and every student set a simple goal: read twenty books in one semester. Any book. Any kind. If you hate the book — STOP READING IT.

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As he shares in the show, when Principal Nesloney took over his school of fourth and fifth graders, he inherited many struggling readers. Too many kids were reading at first and second-grade reading levels. After one semester of observing existing programs, Todd didn't see the programs working. So, after working with his staff – they threw out everything. The problem was that most of the kids had never had a book that they wanted to read.

[tweetthis]“When you find the right book it changes your view completely, and you can’t stop.” @techninjatodd #edchat[/tweetthis]

There is no program on earth that can replace educator enthusiasm for meaningful progress. I also love the discussions Todd had with his staff. One colleague was upset because she listened to audiobooks and didn't know if that “counted.” She had tears in her eyes when Todd told her “reading is reading.” No gimmicks – just reading.

Important Take-Aways from Episode 152

[callout]ECM Educators — YOU CAN DO THIS! If you want to improve something, be all in but don't pretend. If reading is important, then we should read. Episode 152 is one of those shows to email and share. Todd rocks it! Oh, and he responded to my email to let me  know that his test scores did reflect improvement! Awesome![/callout]

I also want to give big props to ECM Educator, Tammy Brown, for her tweet after listening to the show.


Leaders are readers and readers are leaders A person who TAKES ACTION when inspired is moving forward a little bit every day. When you hear about a great book, read it. When you hear a best practice, that can help you, learn more about it. When you have a best practice, share it. Educators who care, share. Tammy used the hashtag, cited the original person and let me know on this tweet. Good modeling there, Tammy!

One more point. Some have asked me why I wait a few days between when the show goes live and blogging the show. Well, there are some ECM educators out there who give me so much great information. Several takeaways belonged in this post that were tweeted to me. When you find something awesome or have something to add to a topic – tweet me!

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Mary Lynne June 22, 2015 - 12:00 am

I accomplished this same thing with my second grade class by following The Daily Five and CAFE. There are several absolutely important aspects to Daily Five. It is a structure, not a curriculum. Anyone can use it. The children are taught how to recognize a good fit book for them and are allowed to choose their own books. I believe this is the most powerful aspect of it. At the end of the year when I ask them to write answers to some reflective questions about Daily Five, one of the most common answer is, “I got to choose my own books”. The teacher turns over control to the students. It’s a hard thing to do, but every year proves once again that it is the right thing to do as I see their reading interest and skill levels grow by leaps and bounds. It looks at reading in all it’s aspects. There are five components: Read to Self, Read to Someone, Word Work, Listening to Reading, and Writing. Each day each child chooses which component they will work with. We usually do 3 rounds daily, so three chances to choose. Read to Self lets them build their reading stamina and get deeply involved in a book. Read to Someone turns reading into a social activity – something the children crave. One enthusiastic reader can turn a whole class onto a book or a series by reading with a partner. Word Work gives them direct practice in phonics which they can immediately apply to their reading. Writing is usually free choice and helps them understand reading from the other side of the page. Listening to reading lets lower readers listen to books they can enjoy and comprehend but can’t yet read, and allows English language learners to hear English modeled by professional readers. The CAFE part is directly teaching the strategies of Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanding Vocabulary. I will never teach reading any other way. For more information and a host of resources, the website is

Vicki Davis June 22, 2015 - 7:04 am

Thank you so much for sharing this! Here’s a great example of how much a comment can add to the original conversation! Awesome! Would you like to come on the show and talk about your experience. With the traffic we’re getting on Facebook and with this show, I’m thinking that this is a hot topic that more teachers would love to hear more about. My email is vicki at coolcatteacher dot com – email me and Lisa Durff, our production coordinator can set up a time to record a show. This is awesome! Thanks for sharing this!

Evelyn Krieger June 23, 2015 - 10:08 pm

Thank you for such a coherent, thoughtful, and helpful comment. Very rare these days!

Jenny June 26, 2015 - 11:21 am

I started using the Daily Five structure in January this year. I’m looking forward to starting the next school year with it. I teach multiple grades and I find that the Daily Five routine helps makes it easier to address the diverse learning needs in a mixed age classroom (aka three ring circus).

Amanda June 22, 2015 - 1:22 am

I have been trying to do this for years. Unfortunately, it’s just too difficult to get people to buy into it. Staff won’t give up the comprehension information from reading program tests. I’m glad someone was able to help some students achieve reading freedom.

Vicki Davis June 22, 2015 - 7:06 am

Please don’t be hopeless! I hope you take a look at Mary Lynn who commented above and what she’s done. Maybe it will help you at least help the kids decide what they want to read! Thank you for sharing your frustration – it is a battle to let some adults let kids read what they want. As a parent, I’ve always pushed mine to find things they love and that is why my own children read so well. Be encouraged. Maybe you can’t throw the whole thing out but learn a few tips. Maybe you can read the Book Whisperer. I’ve always found that we can do something small even if we can’t do every single thing we wish.

Mark Moran June 22, 2015 - 11:12 am

This is a fantastic post, Vicki, and I hope it is widely read. My own son had no interest in reading until second grade. He then became passionate about sports, and I bought him a few books. He begged me to read them to him, but I made him learn to read them himself. Within two years, he was reading The Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy.

Many famous writers agree with Todd’s approach; Beverly Cleary once said, “When I was in grammar school, I sometimes felt that school didn’t want us to read, because there were long questions after everything we read, and we had to write book reviews and give the theme of the book. … That was the question I hated the most: ‘What was the theme of this book?’ I just wanted to read a book and enjoy it. And I think that’s what children should do.”

Trish Gallina June 23, 2015 - 6:34 am

After reading “The Book Whisperer” by Donnalyn Miller my teaching was transformed. My mantra has become, “the only way to become a better reader is to keep reading. Read anything, everything, everywhere! Just keep reading.” Finding books the kids love is the key. I dropped the reading logs, I dropped responses and have turned to book reviews and recommendations. My students have soared.

Pam Hume-Engle June 23, 2015 - 7:45 pm

My school adopted Literacy Collaborative, based on Fontas and Pennell. We began in the kindergarten, they shared with us, first grade, and it took off school wide! We received grants for leveled books and training. We were also fortunate to have an experienced teacher trained in the program when she taught in California. It started with the teachers so no one had to “buy into it.” We shared from the ground up. It even spread district wide! I just can’t tell you enough good things about the fun we had reading! A book went home every night! One year we were an “A” school. The next few were “D” because we didn’t make ENOUGH growth in special Ed, low income, and English as a second language students.
So we were told by the State of Indiana that we must adopt a reading program, a basal! We had been using that money to purchase trade books. So, here we are, back to basics! Skills for the state tests. So sad. I’m retired, but sub for friends. My friends still use the literacy method, along with the basal. It is a good thing I’m retired. I could never go back after teaching reading the way it should be taught or should I say, sharing reading with children.
I live in Indiana. I’m sure you’ve heard of our problems with anti- public school and anti- teacher politicians.

Valerie Lynn June 23, 2015 - 8:04 pm

I am just a mom, a mom of 6 kids….2 are thriving readers, 2 are at level readers who read sometimes by choice sometimes by requirement, 1 is a non reader between a learning disability and her refusal to read, and 1 in only 2 and loves to look at books – but hates when you read to her…

Maybe my opinion is not worth as much as a teachers or a principals but here is my two cents anyway…

Every child should read 30 minutes a day – 7 days a week. Once a month they should choose a book to do a book report on starting in 2nd grade..something to show they are comprehending what they are reading and able to share what they have learned or enjoyed with others and maybe inspire someone else to read it too.

However what a child reads should always be personal choice, a boring book that does not interest you will always take 10 times longer to read than something you pick yourself and a topic you choose because you enjoy it.

I do think there needs to be some student accountability for what they read though, just saying 20 books a semester, my ADHD daughter would read that in 2 weeks and then stubbornly refuses to read anything else…

I like the idea of daily 5 and CAFE, our school adopted it this year and although I think some of the older grades have more work to do to make it work well, the kindergartners this year scored off the charts on their assessments among others amazing accomplishments like writing full paragraph stories by spring semester.

William June 23, 2015 - 10:59 pm

There will always be students who love to read. They have found inspiration from someone, most likely at home but not exclusively. When the others perceive reading to be another teacher directed, school mandated activity, they are turned off before opening the book. Give them freedom to pursue, to choose, what is of interest to them and guide them in understanding what they want to understand and you will have launched a reader and a learner.
There are ways to assess how well they are doing. That’s the teacher’s job; by observation not testing.
When my class of middle school Chinese EFL students (in China) did an entire semester of project work on the Olympics (pre 2008), I didn’t have to ask them to do any reading. When it was done, collectively they knew more than I had known before starting the project and through sharing what they had learned they were all ready to be tour guides at the 2008 Beijing Games and they learned what reading could do for their lives in the process.

Bekki@a better way to homeschool June 24, 2015 - 9:49 am

oh, Amen!
As a homeschoolers, one of our top goals is to have each of our five kids fall in love with literature. I never have them “dissect and analyze” a story before they are about 11-12 years old. My goal is to saturate them in books, read aloud so, audio books and picture books and give them a true love for the written word.

What good is it to be able to locate the protagonist of a novel, if you are never inspired to pick up a novel.

Saturate them in literature.
Read to them aloud and consistently leave them hanging in a story.

Read, read, and read. Any book:)

Jon Richfield June 26, 2015 - 12:51 pm

A tremendous cheer! (Not a commensurately tremendous pat on the back for fear of killing anyone!)
It is a great pleasure to read of such insight and effective determination.
Long may it last and far may it propagate.
And my appreciation to fellow respondents to this topic, for their thoughtful and varied experiences and views.

Penny Kynigou July 14, 2015 - 6:32 am

Dear Vicki,
I totally agree. I read The Book Whisperer and the scales fell from my eyes! I have had the best results in getting children reading and generating a community of readers in my classroom by giving students time in class to read. Check out the posts I have written about this on my blog.
Every few weeks we update our book recommendation wall with posters sharing the books they love. Presenters get 2-3 minutes to briefly share their book. Students ‘favorite’ the books they have already read and recommend with one color of sticky note, and use a different color to flag books they plan to read. Read more on this highly popular gameification strategy I created at
One of my students even wrote a persuasive essay, ‘Let’s Learn to Read by Reading!’. As she so rightly pointed out,
“… in regular reading class, teachers want you to talk about reading but they never actually give you time to do it!”


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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere