Brandi J. Clark

Writer and Educator

Let’s Create Reading Beasts!

Picture credit: Prawy

Picture credit: Prawy


I believe a teacher needs to develop readers into unyielding beasts.

Let me explain. In school, I loved reading; I reveled in practicing my part for the “round robin” experience. Round robin reading is the term for when all students read copies of the same book, taking turns, reading out loud, usually a paragraph each. But at the age of 9, I discovered what happens when you are not an excellent reader. Michael, a boy in my class, was a struggling reader who had been held back a year earlier. When it was his turn, Michael came to a difficult word. The class waited, ready to jump in to help. Too late, he confused “big onions” for begonias.  There was laughter. At the time it was funny.  I think differently now.

I used to think reading was difficult to teach.  I tried too hard to make it happen, from choosing the students’ books to the aforementioned round robin reading.  I was in control of the process, or so I thought. Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, you do better”.  Now I know better.  I believe a teacher needs to develop readers into unyielding beasts.  I mean this as affectionately as possible.   When I say beast, I envision a voracious reader one that can’t stop because they are on an engaging, personal but very social journey.

Six years ago a student asked me if they could sit somewhere else to read. Usually I said no, but that day, for the first time I said yes!  Over that year the students turned into loveable, reading beasts. I learned that the reading environment is everything.

Beasts do not sit in rows, unless they want to.

They want to read on their stomachs, under desks, by the furnace.

They tell me they like the hum of the furnace motor.

They like different types of lighting and lamps fit the bill nicely.

They want to feel like they are at home.

They tell me:

“I want to eat while I am reading.”

Beasts want to read everything in many shapes and forms.  They want to read on a screen and sometimes they want to listen to stories. Beasts will let you know what they want.

“I want pictures!”  they yell, “And captions and lots of action”.

“I want to laugh!”

“I want to cry and I want to think.”

“I want time to look at books and I want time to talk to my friends about it.”

Often I encounter those who think that struggling readers need more drill and practice. Instead I believe they need the freedom to choose their own books.  They tell me things that they love to read:

“I like to read my gaming manuals and find out cheats.”

“Did you know there is a Doll Island? It says so here in the Guinness Book of World Records.”

Sometimes teachers ask me, “But can you tame a beast?  Surely,” they say, “there has to be some order. They can’t go racing around and causing a stir. “

Yes I have found that there is order but it is not a controlled sense of order. They don’t need much help. Sometimes they need to be taught how to take turns. Other times it is someone who has to remind them that it is time to rest: to leave their thoughts for another day. They need some direction; at times it is to introduce a new tool.

I tell them, “Hey, have a go! “

They love to figure it out on their own. All of a sudden they are marking up the text, keeping track of thoughts on post-its and virtual stickies.

They are voracious readers.  They ask me, “Anything new?”

They are social readers.  They ask me, “My friends and I want to read together, can we share?”

They are home readers. My own children, who are 8 and 9 years old, are well on their way to their own reading journeys, yet still, every night I hear:

“Can you read me a story?”

“Can you make it funny?”

“Can you do those voices?”

Every night, my reading beasts are cozy in their pajamas, their teeth minty fresh when I find them patting a spot frantically beside them.

“But you can read” I tell them.

“Yes we know,” my beasts bounce around me, “but we like when you do it.”

They want to cuddle and read together; alone is fun but together is best.

I know I have done my job when I trip over a pile of books, remnants from a reading party.

So can you tame an unyielding beast?

Yes!  By telling them everything and making it happen, “just so”.  But you don’t want to do that!


No you want them to make their own wild decisions and try everything until they find their own “just so”.  In the end it is the beasts that are our future. They are the ones that need to share their wild ideas. It is their wild ideas that continue to create waves; to make changes for the better. It is in the wild world that they live in and they should be beasts of their own domain.

I think back to grade 4.  Michael the reader would have spilled with excitement to read about cars, begonias would not have been picked! The future of literacy is all about our students.  The future Michael would get to choose his books, sit in a favorite spot and listen to reading if he chose to. The future Michael might choose to read with a friend and make a response on his blog.  The future Michael will find his place in the literacy classroom because unyielding beasts are self guided by design.

(Written in April 9,2012 for a graduate assignment…though I STILL believe…)

Until Next Time,


New Job …New Adventures…Paula Abdul says yes!

So I have a new job starting in the fall, same school district and same office.  However, the job is brand new!  I am excited that I can “make it my own!”

Right Paula?


Yes, Lit Maven!

The job is Literacy Supports Consultant for grades 1-12.  This means I will be supporting Literacy, cross-curricular, in approximately 88 schools.

In our school district, consultants visit the schools when needed.  We are not fee for service. This means any teacher or administrator, can request my advice/assistance at any given time.  I can model strategies in a classroom and plan with teachers.  I can present to groups of teachers and admin. It is my dream job and an evolving consultant journey I have been on since September 2007.

For this new job I have been reading these books:

  • Leading the New Literacies by Heidi Hayes Jacobs and her other books in the series: Mastering Digital Literacy, Mastering Media Literacy and Mastering Global Literacy


If you have any other suggestions please let me know in the comment box below.

I am also working on defining my new job.  It is not the same as being a Language Arts consultant nor is it a “special education” job.  While the job has layers of those, it is not as simple as that.  Of course that is what I like about the job change, the openness and the wild and craziness of it.

Stay tuned for my updates on this adventure! Hopefully I will be breaking new ground and not just hitting it.

Until Next Time,

Lit Maven Out!