ABOVE: Tyler Cook (left) and Morgan Magana are two of Jordan Petter’s students that have made regular use of the “Book Love” library.
Coaching and teaching in today’s educational landscape is a tough career tandem. Coaching athletics in the morning, educating young minds during the day, followed by coaching in the afternoons and the evenings, and then grading projects, assignments, and tests at night can be an arduous task.
What gets lost in all of this is the love of reading for a student. With assignments, testing, and expectations, the simple love of reading is eroded.
In steps Belton junior varsity volleyball coach and English III teacher Jordan Petter.
Petter has been teaching for seven years since she graduated from Tarleton State University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in counseling psychology.
A little over a year ago, Belton ISD financed the English department to attend the Summer Literacy Institute at Baylor, which lasted three days. One of the keynote speakers at the training was Penny Kittle, an author and English teacher at Kennett High School in North Conway, New Hampshire.
In the summertime, Kittle teaches graduate students at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institutes.
One of the focus items in Kittle’s address to the Baylor Institute attendees was the Book Love Foundation.
The Book Love Foundation is a 501 (3) (c) non-profit foundation with one goal: to put books in the hands of teenagers.
“She had written a book called “Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers,” Petter said. “Her speech, sessions, and workshops were centered around Book Love, how to start it in your classroom, how to incorporate it, and what to talk about. Things that she lined out in her classroom I was intrigued by and the concept behind it I wanted to incorporate in my class.”
Petter was moved by the address so much that she saw a unique opportunity to put books in the hands of teenagers at Belton High School.
“I’m going into my eighth year of teaching, and I’ve noticed a trend of kids who lack enjoyment in reading,” Petter said. “I talked to other English teachers and their kids aren’t big readers. There are few and far between kids that like to read books, but not many. When she addressed the program of Book Love, I saw it as an opportunity for kids to become more avid readers.”
So in the summer of 2017, Petter collected nearly 900 books and had three bookshelves built in her classroom. It was the start of Coach Petter’s Book Love library.
“In our curriculum, we focus more on the classics,” Petter said. “With English III, it is “The Crucible”, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, and “The Great Gatsby.” Some kids do not connect with those because they are not modern. So, the idea behind this is what Penny said and stressed to us: the kids are now empowering themselves or we are empowering them with the right to pick any book that they want. It doesn’t have to be a classic or a specific genre.”
Petter has many different genres of books to select from, thus, giving her students opportunities to explore an interest and branching into other forms of reading.
“The books are theirs until they finish it,” Petter said. “It doesn’t matter if it takes two weeks to finish it, or a month, or even a semester. The goal is to finish a book and have that sense of achievement. With doing so, it helps with their confidence in reading. One of the goals behind Book Love is to broaden that confidence and find the joy and love in reading again, while building stamina.”
One of the tough things about today’s society are distractions. There are a whole host of events that take away the attention of the importance of reading.
“The sad thing is a number of students haven’t read a book since elementary school,” Petter said. “We actually did a survey at the beginning of the last school year and I asked them how many books that they had in their house, how many books they have read since last year, and what book titles that they had recalled reading. With most of them, it was one book. But they couldn’t come up with a full list because they have never been exposed to the opportunity to read what they wanted to read. It’s always been forced. When Penny Kittle was talking about this, she was stressing their choice for these books.”
Author Matt Miller, who presented as a keynote speaker at Texas Google Summit in Kyle, Texas, is famous for his book “Ditch That Textbook;” Miller stressed the importance of student voice.
“Matt emphasized student choice and voice. My thoughts are that if we dictate for them, even to the extent of not allowing them to decide which books they want to read, we are ripping them of their own voice. Hearing Matt speak of student voice solidified my decision to incorporate and continue Book Love in my classroom atmosphere; I wanted to see the impact of how reading could influence my kids’ lives.”
With the kids ability to select the books that interest them, it not only builds confidence in reading, but also in reading stamina and comprehension.
“After they have finished one book, and then two books, and then three books, their confidence in reading and comprehension have definitely increased and enhanced,” Petter observed. “It is building their stamina in reading more fluidly, more fluently, and it is becoming easier for them. Like I stress in coaching, you practice how you play. If you want to become successful on the court and on the field, then you have to practice that way to become successful. To be successful at reading, then you have to practice reading. It is not going to come to you overnight. That’s why I tell them this and some of them become very frustrated because reading doesn’t come easy to them. The person sitting next to them has finished reading three books and they are still on the first 50 pages of their book, and they are frustrated. Everyone is not the same. The idea behind this is that as long as you are reading, the comprehension will become stronger.”
Petter implemented the Book Love program by having her students read during the first 10 minutes of class every day.
“Some of the students would be so involved in the book that after the 10-minute timer went off, they still wanted to read because they were so captured by their book,” Petter recalled. “I was excited because they were actually reading and it was working. I would read along with them because you want to model how you want your students to perform. I looked up at times throughout the year during those 10-minute sessions and saw my students engaged in reading. I was flabbergasted. It was actually working.”
But the power of Book Love program was not a one-time deal. Petter noticed throughout the year the changes in her students’ reading habits.
“I was astonished that some of the kids came up to me throughout the year, saying ‘I just couldn’t put the book down!’ and ‘I even read last night.’ Just hearing that made me even more excited about the program. It made a difference with having kids just read 10 minutes and it developed into reading at night,” Petter said.
The library is the biggest classroom-based library in the school. It served as a base camp for other teachers to encourage students to check out Petter’s library for a vast selection of book genres.
“My focus was on my library, as Penny Kittle had explained her library,” Petter said. “Penny had between 2,000-3,000 books in her library. I was on a mission to get as many books that I could. Now, I am right around 900. But, my whole goal was to build my library with as many books as I could to reach all of my kids. I didn’t want to have a specific genre. I didn’t want to have five books in each genre and then not have a selection for them to choose from. I wanted to build a wide variety so that our kids could find a genre that they could connect with. My English colleagues also attended the Summer Literacy Institute and desired to build classroom libraries, as well. They would approach me with questions or advice, and I happily shared any suggestions since I had seen it work wonders with my own students. I wanted their students to succeed and build their love for reading just as mine had.”
The impact of the library in Petter’s classroom was immediate. STAAR and EOC test scores increased, while the number of students that needed to pass the EOC English I/II test decreased from 28 to 5. It is an extraordinary decrease that has produced fantastic results.
“The test scores are definitely a result of the enhanced reading stamina and comprehension,” Petter said. “Those re-testers that had to retake those tests were definitely impacted by Book Love and it really helped them pass. It grew their reading stamina and they’re able to sit down, read a passage, comprehend what they are reading, figure out the plot to the story, the happenings behind the story, and to analyze what is going on deeper than before Book Love. Prior to Book Love, they would have just shut down.”
When encountering our youths in elementary school, via camps and career days, we learn that kids want to pursue different walks of life. But the paths to get to these walks involve a great deal of reading, not always to amount the kids are prepared for. Learning good reading habits at an early age is essential to the success of a student.
“There is so much negativity with this generation,” Petter said. “People see kids on their phones all of the time and totally isolating themselves from the world. They also need to see the positives of what happens in the classrooms as well. They are progressing. They are enjoying the love of reading and to open up a book. That speaks volumes. They could easily close their books during that 10-minute period each day and play on their phones. Now, most of these kids are opening a book and broadening their knowledge. That is one step closer to success.”
Petter’s teaching role will have a changeup in the 2018-2019 school year, as she will be the blended learning teacher for English III and IV. Blended learning is a combination of face-to-face in class and online classroom instruction. She will still be the junior varsity volleyball coach and assistant track coach for the school.
“With accepting the new role as a blended learning teacher, the Book Love concept transitions into more of an online aspect, using Flipgrid, Seesaw and other applications to present books in a more technological aspect,” Petter said. “When it comes to Book Love, we’ll focus on using technology in order to submit Book Talks and projects, rather than in-class presentations. I think it will be a successful transition, due to having students that are driven and motivated towards a college-bound path.”
With the incorporation of Book Love into the blended classes, Petter expects the participation increase in the program.
“Even though I had an ample amount of participation and success this year with Book Love, I expect that there will be an increase with next year,” Petter said. “With the advancement in reading and the growth of enjoyment, knowledge will follow.”
For coaches within the Belton ISD, the coaching and teaching goes far beyond the fields and courts of athletics. For many that handle both, the dual responsibilities can easily carry 80-100 hours per week, with little sleep and sacrificed weekend.
But it is the leadership and vision in classrooms that pushes the limits of the education of Belton students to a whole other level. Petter is one of the coaches that gets the job done in athletics and in the classroom, with innovative thinking and student engagement in reading stamina, comprehension, and motivation.
Jordan Petter’s “Book Love” library had plenty of inspiration, heart and soul behind it. It has made a difference in her student’s love for reading, as well as reading stamina and comprehension in test taking.