How to go from relaxed to relentless

There are areas of my work life where I choose to be OK. Not even good. Just passable. Wardrobe is one of those areas.  And my class handouts–I’m scraping by. If a kid requests an extension, I’m a pushover. This stuff is hard to change. In theory it’s easy, but it’s actually related to our values. Sometimes, it takes an outside force to make us go from average to awesome. Or, as you’ll see with Jori below, from relaxed to relentless.

I’m sharing her story from Hacking Literacy because it inspires me. We all “check the box” somtimes, and no one faults us. Were busy, right? For Jori, a high school teacher from Cali, independent reading with her kids was  just “okay.” Then, she had a change of heart, and her students grew. I think you’ll find her story worth your time.


Jori Krulder, English teacher at Paradise High School in Northern California, knows how to build momentum for the culture of reading in her classroom. It took a shift in perspective on the way she approached reading in her class to make the experience authentic and get kids to fall in love with books.

“I realized the way I was doing it wasn’t authentic. People don’t read once a week for an hour.”

She had already established a classroom reading routine that was working to some degree: “On Fridays, everybody would bring in books of their choice and we’d do little traditional things with them, you know, every six weeks a book report . . . It was okay,” Krulder says of her initial approach to independent reading. She’d reach one or two kids every year through this system because of her own passion: Her book talks and read-alouds got kids interested in reading.

Her perspective shifted when a professional development book prompted her to compare her efforts to promote reading in her classroom and the way that the adult readers behave: “It wasn’t until I read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer that I realized the way I was doing it wasn’t authentic. People don’t read once a week for an hour.”

If Krulder had just wanted the kids to be quiet and read, she would’ve accepted the status quo in her classroom. She had reached a point where her students were compliant: They sat quietly during reading time with their books out on their desks, most of them reading consistently. Once she learned about Donalyn Miller’s model, though, compliance no longer felt sufficient. She made a significant change in her approach and established a daily 10- to 15-minute reading practice. For her, the shift felt momentous: “It doesn’t sound revolutionary, but it really was, because nobody did it that way.”

This reading revolution included a decision to nurture students’ identities as readers: fewer requirements, no book logs.

This reading revolution included a decision to nurture students’ identities as readers: “I took away a lot of the requirements. I don’t have them do book logs. The only accountability I have for them is that as they’re reading I’ll walk around and check them off. And for some of them, the ones I know struggle with reading, I’ll write down the page number they’re on, and I’ll talk to them about what they’re reading.” She helps students find other books to read when they’re stuck and addresses individual students’ needs as she monitors the classroom during reading time.

She starts the year with a few activities that help to build the momentum of the reading culture in her classroom. Students take a survey that provides them with their first opportunity for self-assessment:

  • How many books are in your house?
  • What do you think about your STAR reading level? (STAR is an adaptive, computer reading test.)
  • Where would you estimate it? How do you feel about that? Where would you like it to be?
  • What kinds of reading habits do you have right now?

The survey helps students to think of themselves as readers and establish their reading identities. And by having students set goals, it builds motivation to read: “Their goals were so much less apathetic than it might seem on the surface. They really want to improve. They’ve been dealing with failure year after year, and have accepted it as part of their image.”

“They’ve been dealing with failure year after year, and have accepted it as part of their image.”

Her students tend toward low reading levels and poor self-images, so Krulder starts building class reading culture with the most basic of reading tasks: how to pick a book. “We do something called reading speed dating. You go into the library, where multiple tables have been set up with a bunch of high-interest books. Students go to each table and very quickly peruse each book, look at the back, read a couple pages, and write down books that they’re interested in.”

[See more on that and the “text sets” approach here.]

Because she knows that some students need additional motivation, Krulder spends time with them to highlight reasons to read. “We read articles every Friday. We spend 10-20 minutes reading and discussing an article on the benefits of reading. Stuff like, ‘Ten Reasons You Should Read to Your Child.’ Just different things to explain the purpose of reading instead of me just standing up there and saying ‘This is good for you,’ which they’ve heard all of their lives.”

The fundamental part of this hack is Krulder’s interactions with her students about their reading practices. When the bell rings, students get out their books and get started, and Krulder walks around to check in with each student.

Krulder asks students to reflect on their performance at various points throughout the year and measure these results against their habits as readers.

She says this shift has increased the number of students who find books they like. And the results have also manifested in improved reading test scores. Despite some ambiguity about the validity of electronic reading tests, for Krulder it is important to be able to show these positive results to students. The upward movement of the data builds momentum because students take pride in their improvement: “There has been a lot more conversation and excitement over reading.” As a way to make these results more meaningful, Krulder asks students to reflect on their performance at various points throughout the year and measure these results against their habits as readers.

She tells the story of one boy, Bryce, who said he had never read a book. She convinced him to begin by reading a “tiny little book” about a former gang member. He then moved on to Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It series. After finishing his latest reads, Bryce was at a sticking point. He was having trouble finding his next book, and wasn’t keeping the momentum going with his independent reading. There was no doubt that he would surmount this obstacle if Krulder had anything to do with it. She makes it a personal challenge to help these reluctant readers get back on track. Her attitude is clear: “I’m relentless.”


Where have you gone from relaxed to relentless? What do you disproportionately care about? Share in the comments.

2 thoughts on “How to go from relaxed to relentless

  1. I love reading about what great teachers do and Jori is definitely one of those teachers you should steal, borrow and beg from.

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