Every time we enter a new classroom we begin a new partnership with a teacher. We come with book recommendations, curriculum guides, project suggestions, and questions about what our teachers want to achieve with the program. Sometimes we meet a teacher whose answers strike to the heart of our programs. And those partnerships lead to great things.
Anna Goldman is a fourth grade teacher at PS 154 Harlem. She is passionate about getting her students not just to read and write, but to love reading and writing. Like us, she’s taught NYC public school students for 13 years, and, like us, she’s determined to find the one trigger that will spark a love of learning in every one of her 33 students.
This is our third program with Ms. Goldman and this semester we’re working with author Edie Colon’s book, Good-bye Havana! Hola, New York! For the writing project students will interview people who have immigrated to the U.S. and then write their own stories about immigration. Not an easy task for a large class, but, like us, Ms Goldman has high expectations.
Hard Work and an Authentic Product
As an avid believer in tenacity and grit, Ms. Goldman uses Behind the Book programs to teach her students how to rise to expectations. Together, through her encouragement and our immersive experiences using project-based learning, we’re able to prime them for success.
“This is an opportunity for kids to see how hard work leads to amazing things – we’re showing them that publishing a book is a big deal. Working with an author is a serious opportunity and you are expected to work really hard.”
“I want the same thing my students got from our other programs – hard work for an authentic product. A lot of programs focus on telling kids they can do something and then they give them something … but it doesn’t last. The students look at me crooked when I say “I want to see you struggle!” But it’s the only way they’re going to own it.”
“I want the kids to know: It’s mine, it’s not someone else making sense of my words.”
Mentorship and Finding the Catalyst
Last year Ms. Goldman had a student who had just moved here from
Yemen. He didn’t read English and didn’t want to speak much. We were working with DyAnne DiSalvo Ryan’s book, City Green, in which the main character rallies her community to create a garden on a vacant block. For the writing project each student identified a need in the community and wrote a persuasive letter to a city department making a case for change. For the field trip, we took the class to the DeWitt Clinton High School’s community garden. This is where Ms. Goldman’s says we found the catalyst that changed this boy’s school year.
“The field trip was the first time he was motivated to really speak English, because he had a lot of experience with gardening and he could relate to the story through the field trip. At the beginning of the year we couldn’t get him to speak. By the end, we couldn’t get him to stop!
When we got to the writing project he worked one on one with a Behind the book volunteer. He identified the problem in his neighborhood and he wrote to the Department of Sanitation asking for bike racks near his building and if they could remove the old dumped bikes that were piling up.
He couldn’t read, but he could understand why an author wrote this book, he couldn’t speak much English, but the garden field trip motivated him to try. Working with a volunteer helped him get the letter out, but he did all that work himself. I don’t know that we would have otherwise been able to do that for him.
His letter got a reply from a city official, and our newest student learned hands on what it means to live in America, which is something most of us forget – to be the change. Every student learned that lesson. That was really exciting.”
The Ideal School
With three successful BtB literacy programs behind her, Ms. Goldman’s view on teaching literacy is fairly straightforward.
“This is what school is supposed to look like.”
“With Behind the Book I feel like I get to do what I want to do. I’m given the creativity and support to do what I’m being asked to do as a teacher. It shows what’s possible when you have the right support.”
We aim to be a literacy resource for all the teachers we work with. When we strike up solid partnerships like this it can only mean one thing for our students – success.
Check out our Gallery of Student Work to see more of the student books created during BtB programs.