Open a World of Possible

This week, Scholastic announced its new global reading initiative, Open a World of Possible. Through education programs, print and online resources, and literacy events, the Open a World of Possible campaign promotes the importance of independent reading for children and provides tools to support and sustain independent reading initiatives in our home and school communities.

On the Open a World of Possible website, you can:

Watch the inspiring literacy campaign video written by National Student Poet, Sojourner Ahebee, and narrated by actress and mom, Sarah Jessica Parker and videos from kids, parents, and teachers celebrating their love for reading.

Register for the November 6th Bigger Than Words webcast with Usher.

Access Scholastic’s comprehensive reading research summary, The Joy and Power of Reading, and practical, research-based resources for parents and teachers.

Read Open a World of Possible: Read Stories About the Joy and Power of Reading, which includes over 100 essays from literacy thought leaders, researchers, teachers, and authors like Katherine Paterson, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Walter Dean Myers, Alfred Tatum, Penny Kittle, Franki Sibberson, and Colby Sharp. Share these essays at staff meetings, education classes, and parent programs. Children will adore reading and discussing author Kwame Alexander’s poem, “How to Read a Book.” The e-book is available as a free download.

I’m honored to participate in the Open a World of Possible initiative, which advocates for young readers and their families, and inspires us all to promote and encourage independent reading in our homes, classrooms, and communities.

As a sneak peek, enjoy my essay “Reading Sent Me to the Principal’s Office,” which appears in the Open a World of Possible anthology. My beloved elementary school librarian, Mrs. Potter, changed my reading life forever—a reminder of the power we have to influence children’s reading lives each day.

open a world of possible

Reading Sent Me to the Principal’s Office

(excerpted from Open a World of Possible: Real Stories About the Joy and Power of Reading. Scholastic, 2014)

The only time I went to the principal’s office was because of reading. My mother claims this isn’t precisely true, but it’s my story, so I get to tell it how I want.

A precocious reader, I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. Knowing how to read by first grade didn’t seem like a problem to my mother and me, but my teachers thought differently. Initially enthusiastic about school, I was bored with the phonics worksheets and bland textbook stories that made up our school’s reading program. In third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Shugart introduced us to a new reading activity—SRA cards. Stored inside a large box, each color-coded card included a reading selection on one side and comprehension questions on the back. Mrs. Shugart tested each of us—determining where we should start in the SRA program, and for an hour every day, my classmates and I read SRA cards and answered questions.

I didn’t mind reading SRA cards. I knew I was a good reader and also a little bit of a show-off. I don’t remember where I started in Mrs. Shugart’s box, but I burned through those cards. Every day, when I turned in my questions, Mrs. Shugart clucked her tongue and scrutinized my work, “Three cards today? Are you sure you’re really reading them?” I stood at her desk while she checked my answers against the key. If I missed even one question, she would send me back to my desk to repeat a card—insisting that I read too quickly.

Eventually, I finished the last card in the box. Mrs. Shugart didn’t know what to do with me during SRA time, so she made me sit with other kids and help them read their cards. I hated it. One day, Mrs. Shugart returned from the office to find me standing at the chalkboard, chalk in hand, writing the answers to SRA cards on the board. With a gasp, she snatched me by the arm and marched me down to the principal’s office. The secretary called my mother.

No-nonsense about behavior and grades, my mother was unhappy about getting a call from school. Waiting for Mrs. Shugart, Mom asked me what happened, “You were cheating? What were you thinking, Donalyn?” While she talked with Mrs. Shugart and our principal, I sat outside the office in agony—imagining increasingly horrific punishments.

After an eternity, my mother emerged from the principal’s office and escorted me to the car. I kept my head down and my mouth shut. As we pulled out of the school parking lot, my mother sighed, “Did you know that Mrs. Shugart was standing there for three minutes before you noticed her? She says that you gave out at least ten answers and she has to skip those assignments with the other kids now.”

“Mom, I don’t think the other kids will mind skipping those cards,” I said, “What’s going to happen to me?”

“Well, I asked if you could move to the 4th grade reading class, but everyone nixed that suggestion. We came up with a different plan. Every day during reading time, you will go down to the library and help Mrs. Potter.”

And that’s what I did. Every day during SRA time, for the rest of third grade and into fourth grade, I worked as Mrs. Potter’s library aide. Looking back, I recognize that spending an hour a day with Mrs. Potter permanently influenced my reading life.

I don’t remember what Mrs. Potter looked like, but I can still hear her voice in my head, “Horses? You like horses? Have you met Marguerite Henry? Let’s start with King of the Wind.” After King of the Wind, I read every Marguerite Henry book in the library—Misty of Chincoteague, Brighty of Grand Canyon, and White Stallion of Lipizza. I read Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, too.

When I ran out of horse books, Mrs. Potter steered me toward other animal books like Old Yeller by Frank Gipson, Rascal by Sterling North, and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling. Every book Mrs. Potter gave me launched another adventure.

Each time I returned a book, Mrs. Potter spent a few minutes chatting with me about the story, asking what I learned from the book and what parts I liked. Under her guidance, I read a staggering pile of books—Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, most of the Newbery winners, and selections from the Childhood of Famous Americans series. In my opinion, Mrs. Potter was a magician—able to find a book that matched any random interest of mine.

I took reading for granted before my two years with Mrs. Potter. I enjoyed reading, but I didn’t grasp the power of reading until she showed me. From then on, my education belonged to me because I loved to read. I can learn about anything, travel anywhere, ask my own questions and seek my own answers because I read. Thanks to Mrs. Potter’s wisdom and guidance, my life has been one long reading adventure—rich and exciting and mine.

18 responses to “Open a World of Possible

  1. Wonderful post. Brought back a flood of memories. The world of books took me from a childhood of at times uncertainty, loss and confusion to the realm of possibilities as well. And here I am so many years later teaching kindergarten and sharing my love of books and reading with them.

  2. Oh, I love this post and your essay. In second grade, I came home from school and told my mom that I didn’t like school. I didn’t like reading (I’d also been reading for a while by then–from playing school with my older sister when she learned to read, or so the story goes. And, at home, I LOVED reading.) Turned out, during reading, we had to listen and follow along while one person read a bit, then another, and so on and so on. We weren’t supposed to read ahead. After my mom talked to the teacher (who was pretty nice and I’m sure hadn’t realized–there was no way I would have told her!), I got to read at my own speed.

    Third grade-SRAs. HATED THEM. I could have cared less about getting through them successfully, just HATED THEM. Actually got sick on them one day and had to go home. Okay, I had the flu or something, but I can remember the feeling of sitting there with one on my desk and the headache and nausea just getting worse and worse as I tried to force myself to keep reading them.

    Whew. That’s a vent. Why give this stuff to kids to read when there’s MAGIC out there?

  3. Love the whole concept of a “World of Possibilities” and especially your own story. I loved the SRA cards as they were easy but I don’t remember what I did when I finished them.

    My “horror” story was from first grade and about only being able to read the books on the first grade shelf in the library. There was one shelf. I don’t think the shelf was full. I was done with them very early in the year. Thank goodness for Saturday trips to the public library!!!

  4. I remember SRA cards, too, and also didn’t mind them UNTIL I also discovered the joy of real reading and writing from my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Parshall. I wrote a book about horses that year – an entire middle grade novel. She helped us write and bind our books and even took us to her horse farm! My favorite series that year was The Black Stallion. Love all the titles you shared – brought back memories! Great essay. 🙂

  5. Sigh. I so deeply hated the SRA cards. Fortunately, it didn’t take Mrs. Gasset long to realize that I was best served by letting me read my own books. Thank goodness for those, wise, kind, loving teachers/librarians/administrators who knew how to avoid squelching the love of reading in us when were were young.

  6. I am anxious to learn more about Scholastic’s newest campaign- it sounds great! And I love your story. I remember SRA cards as well. I loved the feeling of flying through the box. I was a shy and self-conscious little girl and I loved this time of strength. That said, they certainly did not teach me to love reading- that came sitting on my mother and father’s laps as they read aloud.

  7. Oh, I so relate to this post. SRA, I HATED SRA. My goal was to get to the color that “others” were on. How little could I actually read and still pass the questions so I could get to the next card. Fortunately I had Mrs Leopard in 4th grade who believed in independent reading and introduced me to the joy of reading.

  8. My daughter actually loved the SRA cards because then she would look for more books about the topic. It was the first time she actually got to read as fast as she wanted. You were lucky to have Mrs. Potter-the sweetest story, Donalyn! I love “rich and exciting and mine.” Exactly!

  9. What a great alternative to SRA time! As a child, I always loved spending time in libraries, especially the public library. Even now, as an adult, our Colleyville Library is one of my favorite places to “hang out”. Simply stopping by after a difficult day, I find my spirit lifted as I walk in the door and peruse along the shelves for new friends inside good reads.

  10. Love your essay and looking forward to the Scholastic campaign. I guess we are split on the SRA cards and boxes. I loved the SRA cards and coloring in the different colored boxes on my sheet, all the way up to silver or whatever it was. I think that was probably the only non-fiction reading I ever did and I learned some interesting things. I also had a reading life outside of school, a regular visitor at the public library and of course Scholastic Book Clubs! I had shelves full of Scholastic books which I saved until after I married and when my parents were moving, I had to get rid of them, yellowed pages and all. Thank you for your blog. I enjoy reading it.

  11. You could change your name to mine, our experiences are similar with the SRA cards and being sent to the library as an aide during reading. It was a magical time during my life. I remember being asked one day in the library, if there was a book I had not read and I replied,” I think I have read all of them” and the librarian laughing and saying she had to buy new books to keep up with me. I was encouraged to use the public library, but there is where happiness ended as it was a strange place without anyone to help

    . It makes my mission as a public library director very pointed…every child is to be engaged and helped who enters the door. I see it working too. Today, I visited the first grade classes at our local school and read to them. We used puppets. It was fun and to my delight many of the students had participated in Summer Reading club. They asked if I had brought the dot book with me (Herve Tullet’s PRESS HERE) I am always excited when children are engaged.

  12. Lol I got sent to the Principal’s office for reading, too! They powers that be were worried because I was reading to the point of exclusion. Oh well!


  13. Teri Greenstein

    I really appreciated reading about your journey as a reader in the early years. Unlike you, I struggled with those SRA cards, and was stuck on the brown level for a long time (still not fond of the color brown!) Once I became more confident in my abilities, I was opened up to a world of possibilities by my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Jackson. With Mrs. Jackson’s guidance, I began to explore the library with a new sense of confidence and excitement for the books that were available to me. She would spend time with me before or after school helping me select books that would inspire me to read even more. I don’t think I fully realized the power my teacher had in influencing my passion for reading until I became a teacher and was asked to reflect on those who impacted my literacy journey.. As I think about the role of teachers today, I think we don’t always realize the power we have to inspire our students to become passionate readers. What we do, say and read all have the ability to help grow a new core of students who love to read. Thank you for sharing your stories with us and inspiring teachers to be “those” people!

  14. Donalyn thank you for sharing your story about your reading journey and your own personal struggles. As a six year teacher I am finally feeling like I have my head above water and can give my students the literacy instruction they really need. A big part of this instruction is sharing my own literacy journey with them and assuring them that they are not the only ones who occasionally experience bumps in the road when developing their own reading life.
    Reading your post reminded me so much of my third grade teacher Mrs. Lagoson and her ability to recommend just the right book for me. Up until third grade reading came easily for me, but I did not enjoy it or want to spend any of my free time doing it. With Mrs. Lagoson’s help I devoured books and for the first time was able to escape the craziness of my home life for adventures beyond my wildest dreams. She also inspired me to become a teacher and gave me the confidence to share my love of reading with others.
    Your post also made me think deeply about how I approach each of my students reading needs and if I am really giving them the tools to become lifelong readers. As a first grade teacher I know that I have an extremely important and daunting job of shaping the way my students look at reading. My goal is to have all of my students leave my classroom having a love for reading and your books are helping me discover ways to do this. Thank you for your thoughtful posts and inspiring stories.

  15. Wow! What a great story and a wonderful reminder of how much impact we can have on children and their enjoyment of reading. While I can’t recall doing DRA, I do recall reading specific books so that I could take tests to receive stars and points. I would speed through books as quickly as I could, only worrying about how many points I could earn. There’s not really one book that I read on my own that I remember from elementary school as one that I LOVED. It was more about how many stars did I receive?

    Once fourth grade rolled around, I finally had a teacher who would inspire me to love to read. I can still hear her voice in my head, reading “Holes” aloud to the class. She would dim the lights and let us sit in comfortable places in the room. I began to realize how interesting books could actually be when time was taken to read and enjoy them rather than worrying about the test afterwards. This was the year of D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) and one that would change my life as a reader.

    In my second grade classroom, as a second year teacher, I still waffle back and forth in terms of assigning curriculum books and allowing all choice. I want to inspire my students to love to read — with a focus on “will over skill.” However, it’s so hard to go against the grain, as all of the other teachers on the team stick strictly to the curriculum readings. I am doing my best to balance between the two [with a much heavier favoring to choice books, shhhh ;)]. Stories such as this help to ground me in doing what I know is best practice for inspiring readers.

    Thank you for sharing!

  16. Oh, the memories your story brought back! I have so many connections to my own life, both past and present. When I was a young precocious reader, I, too, blew through those SRA cards and was allowed to spend time in the basement library of my elementary school. Your post brought me back to the days of searching the shelves for books that would take me to new places. I was also guided by a wonderful librarian, and am ashamed to say that I do not recall her name. (I think I’m older than you ☺ ) She was the person who guided me to so many new adventures within books. Our stories are an important reminder of how influential a single reading mentor can be to a child.

    I try to be that reading guide now to my students, and have learned so much from you about how to to best inspire, motivate, and encourage the many different children entrusted to me. Some are voracious readers, so we discover together new books to love. Some are reluctant readers, and this is where my passion rests. There is nothing more gratifying to me than to be the person who assists in the discovery of the exciting experience of enjoying a book! When students walk into my classroom and can’t wait to read, especially when they used to be struggling, there is just nothing better!

    Luckily, my school district has decided that choice reading has enough research support to allow it. We still use some shared texts, but I always try to give at least a couple different choices so that students feel more in charge of their own personalized learning. It presents some challenges, as assessments are not those neat little quizzes and tests that everyone used to be able to give to all. This is where teaching can really be creative, and definitely what is best for students. We sure have come a long way from SRAs!

    Thank you so much for your essay…I will look forward to hearing more about the Scholastic initiative with which you are involved.

  17. Well, my goodness! You mean you were allowed to go and read whatever interested you in the library? Without having the teacher send you to return the book with a curt message that the book wasn’t “on your level” and there was no test for it? How shocking!

    That is me being bitter. What a lovely experience you had! It just breaks my heart to see the classroom teachers ruining the children’s reading experience by reducing it to a matter of points and t-shirts and by taking away so much of their ability to choose freely, to decide for themselves whether they are able to read particular books, and to develop an attention span instead of racing through the shortest books they can find, in order to have fewer things to remember for the test.

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