Subways Series: Super Readers (Part 2 of 2)

First Fridays at Incarnation School

O’Shaughnessy Fellows Dave Robles (5th, St. Charles Borromeo, New York City), Francesca Ciaramitaro (ELA MS, Incarnation School, New York City), and Christine Cherichella (3rd, P.S. 199, New York City) met up in Central Park to interview Francesca about how her school builds community, engagement and joy around literacy (based on Allyn & Morrell’s Every Child a Super Reader: 7 Strengths to Open a World of Possible). In the 2nd of their two-part “Subway Series”, our teacher scholars blog in a new format - bringing digital technology, voice, and humor to a traditional format because that’s what innovative teachers do! 

Please note the 2nd edition of Pam Allyn and Ernest’s Morrell’s book is now available: Every Child a Super Reader: 7 Strengths for a Lifetime of Independence, Purpose, and Joy. 

You can read their first blog “Subway Series: Blogging from the A Train” here

The transcript of Dave, Francesca and Christine’s conversation is below.   

Dave: Good afternoon everybody! We are here in bright sunny New York City in Central Park. You can hear the sirens, you can hear the beauty and the wondrous poetic cacophony of life that is New York City. I am here with the Mighty Francesca and our Wonder Woman Christine and I am Dave Robles. We are here in New York for our Subway Series and we are going to talk about what we like to talk about best… edu-ma-ca-tion! 

Christine: Thank you for that wonderful intro, Dave! I think we are going to start with Francesca. We are going to ask her some questions. Let me just take a peek here. So today, Francesca, you were telling us a little bit about this First Friday Celebration. Could you tell us more about it? 

Francesca: I would love to. I teach Middle School English Language Arts in Washington Heights up at Incarnation School and we have a noon dismissal on the first Friday of every month. In the afternoons we have faculty meetings but what we noticed was that our attendance was really low for students on these half days so about 4 years ago we banded together and said, “How can we increase our attendance?” So we developed a day devoted to celebration of Super Reader Strengths, a celebration of our MAP growth, and just celebrating being together. So the way it works is that we typically have a Super Reader lesson in the morning coming from the book, The 7 Strengths of Super Readers and then we’ll go to mass all together which is the highlight of our week - to all be together in church - followed by that we’ll have the awards assembly. This looks a little different depending on the month. If we’ve just finished a period of MAP testing, we’ll have a ton of different MAP awards for specific classes, students, based on growth and achievement. If it’s just a normal month we’ll have Student of the Month for the Super Reader strength. So for example, our strength of the month for September is Belonging. We want to make sure all of our students feel welcomed and safe in our school community so we’ll celebrate that. And then in October a Student of the Month for Belonging will get awarded. We band together with other classes too so 7th grade will read with 2nd grade, we’ll do Reading Buddies and do some games and then we finish with a pizza lunch and it’s just the best four hour day ever.

Christine: That sounds amazing! 

Dave: I love it, I love it. I bet the time goes by super fast! 

Francesca: Oh, it does! You never really know sometimes what you’re going to get walking into a classroom on a First Friday. Sometimes, you know, reading time with the 2nd graders will turn into a dance party and there’s just so much joy everywhere. Sometimes goal setting will go from doing it in the notebook, to let’s tear these pages out and put them all up in the hall so that everyone can see them. You just never really know what you’re going to get. 

Christine: I love the MAP celebration - the awards for that. I would love to do that - to bring that to my school. Because, that’s what I’ve been saying - it’s been tricky at my school with the MAP data and introducing it to the kids. But having the award ceremony - so that every student eventually is going to get an award. Is that the idea? 

Francesca: Almost - because there are so many different awards. If we only did awards based on achievement, it would be a lot different but we’re so growth-focused and MAP testing was really new to our community six years ago and so to get both teachers and students on board, we really needed to dedicate time to developing this culture around it so the most coveted award is the Class Growth Award. They get this MAP growth champion trophy that grows the most and they get some kind of special trip. So pre-COVID, it was usually a movie theater. Post-COVID we’ve had to make some adjustments. Not to brag or anything, my 6th grade class has won the last two times. This last winter the prize was bouncy houses in the gym. They set up 3 huge bouncy houses. We had an afternoon of just playing and fun but they knew it was rooted in their MAP growth. They were the class that grew the most in all 3 subjects and so they got to really celebrate that which was really amazing. 

Dave: I love it - I love the shifting in, not just rewarding students who are just constantly doing well - like the high flying students - but like the students who have shown incredible improvement. I like the idea of rewarding students who are just kind of leveling up in those beautiful ways. 

Francesca: Absolutely 

Dave: I love it. Why do half days always feel longer? 

Francesca: I’m telling you - First Friday doesn’t, though and I’m so excited for it tomorrow too! Our strength of the month for May is going to be Perseverance because we start MAP testing for spring the week after. 

Christine: It’s perfect for this time of year 

Francesca: Right? You need to be persevering this time of year. I’m just kidding! But just getting our students in that mindset to - a little bit of challenge is okay. And it’s okay to have a little bit of adversity and to feel like things aren’t always going swimmingly and so MAP testing is one of those times because it is a longer test but we want to remind them to persevere and stay strong and we’ll all be better for it. 

Christine: So if someone came into your classroom on a First Friday, how would you want them to feel? 

Francesca: Student?

Christine: Student. 

Francesca: Oh, a student. So first they are going to be wearing their First Friday t-shirt so it’s also because we’re a Cahtolic school they get a dress down day. All the classes have different colors. My homeroom is green so I’d want them to be feeling proud to be wearing that green shirt, to be proud to be in our 7th grade homeroom. And I would want them to just be excited to be with their friends and their classmates and be together because that’s what it’s all about - we want to be that safe haven for our students, we want to be the place that they want to come - they want to be in so I would hope that they would be feeling excited to be a part of our celebration and our homeroom community. 

Christine: I would be! So, what role do the Super Reader strengths and literature play in First Friday? 

Francesca: So, we usually try to pick out texts for the Reading Buddies that are based on the Super Reader strengths. So if we have some books on hand or we might place an order before - to really channel those Super Reader strengths and the texts, giving the kids something to bond over and talk about. 7th grade and 2nd grade - on the surface maybe there’s not a lot in common besides their time as Incarnation students but if they have a book that has something related to the lesson they all just learned that morning, that’s really helpful. And we always bring them back in through the literature that we’re reading so for example, with May’s strength being perseverance, in 6th grade we’re reading The Lions of Little Rock and there is a lot of persevering that all these different characters have to do. There’s also other Super Reader strengths that come up in this book - courage, and belonging, and curiosity, and so I’m constantly bringing in those strengths to all the books that we read in an effort to make students make those connections. 

Dave: I love that - it’s such a magical quality about reading a book and then being able to glean these strengths - like that sounds like magic - you mean you’re saying I can read Charlotte’s Web and then become a friendlier person as I read it and even more so, if you were reading books that the characters reflect what our kids look like, even more so, right? I think that’s just fantastic. 

Christine: It’s so inspiring hearing you talk about - because I feel in my school community, we’ve been looking for something like this that is absolutely authentic and something that everyone - students, parents, and the staff - will all buy into. 

Francesca/Dave: Yeah! The buy in is important, yes! 

Christine: I think we’ve been trying different things and things have been working… but… this I love. 

Francesca: Yeah - there’s a lot of different ways to bring in the goal setting aspect too. I feel like - that’s been a really important part of the buy in for our kids. So when we set goals either on First Friday or before or after a MAP test, this little half day portion is the perfect chance to revisit them because there were some things with buy in too at the beginning for us and we realized we had to keep circling back and just make it a regular part of what we were doing because when it only happens once a month or it only happens three time a year, creating that buy in - it becomes really hard. To track that class growth that we were talking about with the awards, we have huge charts that each class hangs up and they write their potential prize on it and fill in that chart a little bit every day to say “We’re working toward this goal and this is what we did today” so there are constant reminders and school artifacts all around our building to make sure that it’s not just once a month or just before the test because that buy in piece - it is probably the hardest part. It takes time. 

Christine: Yes, yes! But I like - it’s visual, the kids see it every day and then there’s the consistency - you’re right. We have something similar but it’s once a month and we don’t have a consistency that you have. 

Dave: How can we support - as your cohort, as your Super Friends? How can we support your initiatives, your efforts? 

Francesca: I think the biggest way - what we do all the time - is just discussing it because all of my ideas come from our conversations and I get the best book recommendations from you guys so even just right before this video you were sharing - and I was like “First Friday book, First Friday book, I’m adding that to the list” so just continue to share the fellowship and your support and recommendations. 

Christine: We can do that! We can try! 

Dave: Well, there you have it folks! This was just a snippet of the wonderful things that are happening in Incarnation Escuelita in Washington Heights. Thank you very much for all the thankless work that you’re doing. I know it’s teacher appreciation week, so just know that you are appreciated and we will never know the scope of the work that we do and the gratitude that people feel for everything you all are doing in your communities. 

Francesca: And you, too Dave! 

Dave: Alright! Til next time, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel!