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Desire to Read? Why You Should Join the Teachers’ Choices Committee

by April Wulber
April 11, 2013
How would you like the chance to receive brand new books from publishing companies, plus get the chance to review those books and share your thoughts as part of an awards program? Members of the IRA Choices committees get to do exactly that.

For the past three years, I have been fortunate to be a part of the IRA Teachers’ Choices Committee. I stumbled upon the Choices program when I first became a member of IRA several years back. When I changed jobs from classroom teacher to curriculum specialist a few years ago, I applied to be a regional coordinator with the Teachers’ Choices program. I was chosen and I began finding teachers who were interested in reading with me. As an avid reader, I could not dream up a better way to spend my free time. Sounds like a lot of fun, right?

Being a part of the Choices program is great fun, but it requires some work as well. As a regional coordinator on the committee, it was my job to find teachers who would read and review the books. I found that I needed at least 50 teachers to make the project manageable. After the first year, I had teachers coming out of the woodwork to participate—they were excited to be able to see the new books and share their thoughts on them. I had to deliver books and collect reviews every so often and report those reviews to the committee chairs, but that job was doable because of the benefits of the program.

Each year, beginning in late June or early July, the shipments begin arriving. It is so much fun to answer the door the first time the UPS man comes bearing boxes of books. By fall, I am on a first-name basis with him!

The publishers that participate in the program are asked to send about 10% of the total books they publish to be considered for the Teachers’ Choices award. The numbers are slightly different each year, but that works out to be about 400 titles a year. It’s always a thrill to open up the boxes and see what books the publishers have chosen to send. Obviously, no one is a fan of every book they receive, but I have been introduced to so many genres and titles that I never would have picked up on my own.

You know when you’ve finished reading a great book you just have to talk to someone about it? This project has sparked so many conversations about books among teachers in the various districts that I’ve worked with through the Choices program. Sometimes teachers get very busy and they forget how important it is to stay informed about the new books that students are interested in. This program gives them an excuse—a reason to sit down and read one of the latest books that just very well might be a great book to put to use in their classroom.

Another benefit that I saw of this program was that teachers were reading books that they might not necessarily pick up on their own, but discover links to topics/content they are studying in their classroom. Some have been able to put the books to use right away.

I live in a very rural area and many of our schools have high percentages of students with free/reduced lunch and poverty rates. Many teachers spend their own money to provide books and other resources for their classrooms. With the Choices program, once the publishers send the books to you and you have completed the reviews, you get to keep the books. This has been a huge positive factor in many teachers’ classrooms; many new books have gone onto the shelves alongside books from garage sales and older children.

The annual IRA conference is only eight days away. Each of the choices committees—Children’s, Teachers’, and Young Adults’—will have sessions during the conference to share their winning books. There is also a booth in the Exhibit Hall (#3235) that showcases all the winning books. It’s staffed by committee members that can explain the program and answer questions to anyone who stops by.

Participating in this program has been so rewarding, and I hope to participate for several more years. Each of the committees has a little bit of a different focus and you can find out more about the committees and see past Choices winners on the IRA website: http://www.reading.org/resources/Booklists.aspx.

I encourage you to check out the website and our booth at the conference, and think about applying to be a coordinator for your region!

Don’t miss the Choices sessions and symposia at IRA 2013:

Children’s Choices:
“Children's Choice Award Winners: Informational Books Take Center Stage”

Young Adult Choices:
“Read It, Talk About It, Make a Difference with Young Adult Literature”

Teachers’ Choices:
“Making a Difference by Enriching the Curriculum with Award-Winning Trade Books for Students in Grades K-8” and “Making a Difference for Readers, Writers, and Artists by Connecting them with Authors and Illustrators who Create Books that Inspire, Motivate, and Delight”

April Wulber is the ELA Specialist at the Darke County Educational Service Center in Greenville, Ohio. She provides professional development for eight county districts and some surrounding schools in the areas of the Common Core Standards and literacy. She has previously taught eighth grade language arts and first grade. She has been an educator for 10 years. April also enjoys reading and writing with her four-year-old daughter.

© 2013 April Wulber. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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