Secondary Reading League

Leaders for Literacy in Grades 6-12

Upcoming 2018-19 SRL Events

  • Illinois Reads Book Festival, hosted by Waukegan School District, Waukegan High School, March 16, 2019, 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM
  • Spring Book Talk, Lou Malnati’s/Anderson’s Book Store, Naperville – April 17, 2018

Changing the Rules: SRL President Erik Borne’s Recommendation to Read Game Changer by Donalyn Miller & Colby Sharp

Every so often a professional development book comes out that we cannot stop nodding our heads with as we turn the pages completely absorbed in the author’s message. And maybe if we are really lucky, we find that one book that is a true game changer for us; for me, it was Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer about seven years ago. She inspired me to reflect on why I really became an English teacher and about my own evolution as a reader. When I read this book, I was actually re-thinking my career, bored with and not feeling good about stuffing down students’ throats books that stagnant curriculum maps said were good for them. You know those books that students fake-read and that teachers often think teens will read if we just threaten them with a quiz? Well, The Book Whisperer saved me by charging me to rethink the books I encourage my students to read and what we do with them, motivating me to become an avid reader of young adult literature, and changing my attitude about allowing students to choose what they read during class time. Last fall I had the honor of presenting at the IL Association of Teachers of English conference with Speak author Laurie Halse Anderson about how young adult literature saves teens’ lives because of the relevant issues that drive the plots and because it helps spark their reading momentum so that they have a better chance of becoming lifelong readers. Anderson thanked teachers who “get it” for making reading interesting and enjoyable for their students, unlike what her English teachers did for her when she was in high school. In essence, she was thanking teachers like Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp, who recently co-wrote Game Changer--reaffirming my current classroom practices and daring me to take them to the next level. Reading this book on the plane to the Literacy Research Association conference, I could not help but use it as a lens for much of the research presented from gurus from all across the country.

The problem with Game Changer is there are too many great ideas, but the promise lies in the fact that many of us still have several school years ahead of us to play with all these ideas at our own pace--growing and getting there. Heck, because of this book, now I need to teach for at least another 15 years! What I appreciate about Miller’s books is that they are told from the practitioner’s perspective but make the research her work is grounded in transparent. Even though Miller and Sharp both teach at the middle school level, these principles and practices translate well into high school teaching and learning, that is if we truly want to fight against graduating aliterate eighteen-year-olds: “You have to be relentless and unwavering in your efforts to get kids to read. You can’t let up on it.”

Miller and Sharp discuss the importance of classroom libraries full of authentic texts not written for the teaching of reading or skills. Students who engage and want to read the material are more likely to actually read the text, developing skills and growing as a reader. Miller and Sharp borrow Richard Allington’s concept of creating book floods rather than book desserts with students helping to build the libraries; check out Sharp’s video explaining how he did this: In classrooms where classroom libraries exist, students are likely to read 50-60% more, so here is where leaders should allocate funds instead of some of these fancy programs that produce inconsistent results. The volume of student reading has a significant impact on standardized reading test scores and, more importantly, their attitude toward reading. To develop book mavens, ILA suggests that these libraries have seven books per student, and ALA recommends at least 300 books on the shelves. I’m getting there, but a classroom library is never complete, especially since my director of building and grounds surprised me with brand new bookshelves he built over Winter Break! Selected books should provide exposure to a wide variety of perspectives, diversity, and representation--including complete series, additional copies of popular titles, and sequels to read-alouds; when I read aloud books from Stephen King and Jacqueline Woodson, students were begging for the sequels. There is nothing better than those self-proclaimed non-readers who come asking me to order another book in a series or from an author they discovered.

Game Changer emphasizes the need to dedicate time in class for reading independently. Students who read 20-30 minutes a day perform in the top rankings in standardized tests. Allington recommends 30 minutes a day for K-8 students and 10-15 in high school classes. Allow students to interact with each other about what they read--reading is not only an individual exercise but also a social experience, hence the popularity of book clubs. Conferencing with students stretches students’ ability to articulate their perceptions of what they read and provides them a time to be the expert in the conversation with the teacher. What better opportunity to talk with and learn about our students? This reading time is important because it may be enough to inspire them to read at home because they cannot get enough of the story, or this time in our classrooms may provide the only quiet place where children can concentrate on reading.

The authors encourage strong relationships between teachers and librarians, stressing how if teachers and librarians keep up to date with what student want to read, tap into student interest inventories to maintain the library, organize books how students will look for them (never by reading level), and lead collaborative book talks, students will have a greater chance of wanting books in their hands. A school wide culture of reading where teachers post signs showcasing what they read and where book clubs are available for teachers and students to participate in also positively impact students’ attitudes about books. “Reading is more than a skill to be mastered,” yet we often treat it that way. Leveling our readers and associating multiple choice tests with all the books students read does not make readers out of them; levels are just scaffolds, yet “the best intervention is a good book” (Harvey & Ward, 2017). At IATE Laurie Halse Anderson called libraries sanctuaries, adding, “Librarians are angels. That’s why they have to wear cardigans, to cover their wings.” I am so lucky to have a collaborative librarian, Stephanie Flott, who is instrumental in the culture change we have initiated at Dwight High School.

Summer reading is addressed by Miller and Sharp, citing that summer reading is the “only activity consistently linked to summer learning” (Kim & Quinn, 2003). They recommend 12-15 books for grades K-2 and 4-5 books for 3rd through 12th grade. Guarantee each student leaves for summer with a book--ideally to keep for ownership. They highlight how in one school students go home with three to four books in June, receive three to four books at home in July, and then receive three or four more in August--left waiting and wanting more reading opportunities over the summer. Positive experiences equal positive memories, helping to make reading a habit. According to Miller and Sharp, “Practice doesn’t make perfect--practice makes permanent.”

When I talk with my students about what they are reading, I often ask what the writer’s gift to them is--that character they love, the situation they can identify with that reminds them they are not the only one, the feel-good perspective about this crazy world we live in, or just how somehow they get transformed into a story where they lose all sense of time. These gifts are what get students excited about books. A couple months ago, my eight-year-old son came downstairs while he was supposed to be sleeping declaring that Patricia Polacco’s An A from Miss. Keller was his favorite book, and he could not stop talking about it until he read it to me to show me how fantastic it was. A couple weeks ago he made me take him to the public library to get Candace Fleming’s Boxes for Katje, a book that his teacher read aloud to him in class, swearing that this was the best book ever written. Those stories are gifts to him, and seeing him light up about books is a gift to me. I hope that he still will get excited about books when he is a teenager, and having teachers who encourage him to find books that interest him and keep him reading cover to cover will certainly help. My goal for my children--as well as for my students--is to make avid readers out of them who continue to read in and after high school and then read to their own children, creating future generations of readers when even more will compete with their time.

Books like Game Changer are written to entice us to reflect on how we teach and why, to affirm what many of us want to do or already do, and to provide the justification some of us may need for our administrations to support us in taking risks that can really make a positive difference. This is a book that pre-service teachers should be looking at in their methods courses. I even gifted it to my principal’s daughter, a first-year teacher. In addition to getting your hands on and wrapping your minds around Game Changer, I encourage you to subscribe to Sharp’s Nerdy Book Club online community that includes a daily e-mail and check out his free Nerd Camp conference July 8th and 9th in Parma, MI.

May the Game Changing begin! To help in this endeavor, you are invited to come to SRL’s annual Spring Book Talk with Anderson’s Bookshop April 17th at the Naperville Lou Malnati’s. Sign-up information will be available soon.

Your partner in literacy leadership,

Erik Borne

SRL President

Spring Book Talk

Wednesday, April 17th, 5:30pm

123 West Jefferson Avenue

Naperville, IL

Please join the Secondary Reading League for its annual Spring YA Book Talk at Lou Malnati's in Naperville, IL on Wednesday, April 17th from 5:30-7:30. Hear about the latest and most popular YA books from our friends at Anderson's Bookstore and purchase any books at a discount afterward (Anderson's is right next door!). A pizza and salad dinner will be served at 5:30, and the Book Talk will begin punctually at 6:15. The evening event will also include collegial conversation, opportunities to network, and a preview of other upcoming SRL events. So that we can personalize this Book Talk, please e-mail Erik at if there are any specific genres, topics, themes, conflicts, etc. that you would appreciate the presenter considering when choosing which books to highlight. Anderson's is offering a 20% discount to any YA Book Talk attendees that wish to shop after the Book Talk. Participants can earn 1 CPDH for attending (additional form will be required).

In order to RSVP, please visit

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SRL Making a Difference in the World

For several years now, the Secondary Reading League has activity supported a number of IRC International Projects aimed at improving the state of reading and literacy in foreign locales. Recently, the Executive Board heard from the Illinois Reading Council’s International Project Director, Carol Owles, about the impact our work has made and extending her heartfelt thanks to everyone in SRL. Specifically, Carol was referring to our contributions to the Tanzania Library Project and the Guatemala Literacy Project. Carol wrote:

“Thank you for letting me know about your book purchases for the Tanzania Library project. That is great!! We will have a box to collect the books, marked Tanzania Library at our Board Meeting next Saturday. Thanks for bringing them. SRL is always so supportive of our International Projects and you are truly appreciated!! … Your Council has contributed to the Guatemalan Teacher project very generously also.

“Please let your members know how grateful we are for the support that the Secondary Reading League always gives us. [We received] the check for the Handicraft Sales that you had at your conference in November. Again, the $447.00 you brought to us in profits will buy lots of books for Guatemalan classrooms.”

SRL donated 12 books to the Tanzania Library Project: 6 copies of Diamond Boy and 6 copies of The Women Who Planted a Million Trees. This literacy initiative is helping to add to the collection of the library at the Killimakewa Educational Center in Moshi, Tanzania. More about the Centers work can be found here.

In terms of our support for the Guatemalan Literacy Project, SRL sponsored 6 Guatemalan teachers’ attendance at the Guatemalan Reading Council conference. The 3-day conference was held on February 20 - 22, 2019, in Mixco, Guatemala.

According to the Reading Village website, the need for a focus on literacy in Guatemala is dire: “Raw with the wounds of nearly four decades of civil war, the country is full to the brim with survivors struggling to break free from seemingly perpetual poverty. The literacy rate of Guatemalans over the age of 15 is just 75% – apart from Haiti, this is the lowest literacy rate in the Western Hemisphere. What’s more, social and cultural prejudices and barriers such as racism, gender discrimination and poverty, show up plainly in these literacy statistics: males (80%) are more likely to be able to read than females (69%), and Ladinos (82%) are better off than their indigenous peers (58%). When it comes down to it, indigenous women are the most marginalized in the country – with literacy rates of just 30% alongside high rates of poverty and poor health.

Through sponsoring teacher attendance at their reading conference and by raising funds via the sale of Guatemalan handicrafts at the Day of Reading Conference, SRL is able to help provide books to classrooms badly in need of literacy resources.

It is through your membership and participation in SRL activities that all SRL members help make a difference in the world.

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Get involved with the SRL Board

The Secondary Reading League is looking for members that want to become more involved in the leadership of SRL. Looking to expand your leadership experience and bolster your professional credentials? Now is your chance! Each spring, the Secondary Reading League accepts nominations for various Executive Board positions. We ask that you please consider dedicating a small bit of your time to advance the success of the Secondary Reading League.

The Executive Board meets throughout the year to plan SRL activities, advocate and promote adolescent literacy and chart the course for high quality, literacy-based professional development. As we approach spring, it is already time to think about SRL officers for next year and we need YOUR Help!

This cycle, SRL is seeking nominations for the following Executive Board position.

Vice-President—the SRL Vice-President serves for a multi-year period, advancing from the VP position to President-elect (year 2), President (year 3), and Past-President (year 4). At each step in the leadership progression, the Vice President works closely with the Executive Board in planning events and providing organizational leadership. Year one provides initial familiarity to the SRL Executive Board functions and operations, assisting the President and President-elect in planning and decision making. Years two and three offer a greater level of organizational leadership. During year 4, this candidate serves as a mentor to succeeding Executive Board members. (four-year, progressive term)

You know the quality work that SRL performs. Now is your chance to get involved and promote your own teacher leadership credentials (did anyone say Danielson Domain 4?)

If you are interested in a leadership position or would like to know more about other positions that are available, please contact Erik Borne at by 3/25. The 2019-20 Executive Board members will be announced at the SRL YA Book Talk

Welcome to New Members

Thank you to all of our members who have renewed their memberships. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support over the past 12 months. We value all contributions to Secondary Reading League, and memberships make up the lifeblood of our organization. Your involvement is extremely important to us and very much appreciated.

Welcome to our new members. We look forward to forming a partnership with you in promoting adolescent literacy. Thank you for your support!

Below is a list of members that have renewed or joined in January. Use this list as proof of membership for a Domain 4 artifact.

If you have any questions regarding membership, please contact Angel Kalat at

2019 Illinois Reads Book Festival--See You There!

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The Secondary Reading League is a proud sponsor of the 2019 Illinois Reads Book Festival. We hope you will join us for this amazing celebration of literacy, at Waukegan High School on Saturday, March 16, 2019. You can download a SAVE THE DATE Flyer (in English or Spanish) below. More details about Illinois Reads 2019 will be included in future SRL Newsletters.

You can also visit the Illinois Reads Book Festival--Waukegan web site.

SRL's Commitment to Learning, Literacy and Leadership

During 2018, the Secondary Reading League engaged in a range of literacy projects, remaining true to its core values of promoting learning, literacy, and leadership. Here is a recap of some of the major projects SRL was involved with in 2018.

Secondary Reading League was one of the lead sponsors of the Illinois Reads program. Our support helped with the DuQuoin Illinois Reads Book Festival, March 2018 and other Illinois Reads events throughout the year.

SRL donated 5 backpacks filled with school supplies/writing supplies to the Texas South Basin Immigrant Children's project. Supplies were distributed to students detained by Immigration and Custom enforcement.

SRL donated professional books to Adolescent Literacy Interest Group at the 2018 International Literacy Association Conference in Austin, TX, summer 2018.

SRL donated professional books to preservice teachers at the IRC Conference, October 2018.

SRL awarded two Literacy Grants during 2018. The grants were awarded to teachers with Fieldcrest Unit 2 School District and Metea Valley HS.

SRL gifted memberships to the teacher of the Illinois Reads Essay Contest winners (6-8, 9-12) promoting participation in professional organizations.

SRL participated in the Guatemalan International Project, selling Guatemalan handicrafts at the Day of Reading Conference. Proceeds are used to purchase books and to fund professional development for teacher sin Guatemala: (see story above)

SRL donated to the Guatemalan Teacher Fund making attendance at the Guatemalan Literacy Association conference possible. (see story above)