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Hi State CfBs,

As you know, a group of state centers is working on a continuation of
Letters About Literature as a state-based program.
We have run LAL in Mass since the year our center was founded in 2000, and
we have always been a high-participation state,
but before I jumped in on running a program without any outside funding to
support it, I thought I'd poll our LAL mailing list
to find out what participants wanted.

We sent our poll out to 573 people and have had, to date, 68 responses ...
so well above 10% return on the poll ...
and this during summer vacation.

One of the questions we asked is, "Can you tell us how LAL has worked for
you?"  Here are responses I thought
 might interest any of you on the fence about the value of the program::

--Transformative experience for middle and high school students.
--The students who receive honor are inspired to continue work in the
humanities.
--Students have read winning letters to the entire student body, and their
work has been featured in our print and web publications.
--The external endorsement makes a huge difference to students!
--Students love to write these letters and it promotes reading
--It has been an optional opportunity for students.
--It has been a profound source of inspiration to my students (and to me),
it has seen them work very hard
to produce better writing. It also encourages parents to place a higher
priority on literature, reading, and writing.
--Pro - I start school year with independent reading, so the letter contest
offers a good finish to that unit. Con- Despite the extensive directions f
or how to's with the letter, I think some parts of the letter entry almost
invite unnecessary "gushing" about the book, something I want to avoid.
--It is an important part of my English curriculum.
--This program has become an integral part of my curriculum for honors
mainstream English and English language learners because
all levels of readers and writers can participate and share their love of
reading.
--The topic stimulates student interest, provides a great opportunity for
reflective writing, and gives our students a broader
stage on which to gain recognition and build confidence.
--Helps students discover truths within themselves through literature.
--I love the way Mass Center for the Book ran the LAL program. I prefer
sending letters directly to my state. I hated last year's online upload
system.
--My students love writing for a real audience; they reflect on their own
lives as readers and as humans-in-progress; they learn to
synthesize details from two sources to support a central thesis... the list
goes on!
--The experience has been rewarding and motivating for my daughter. She
felt very much heard and encouraged by her teacher and LAL.
--Provided another written assignment with the added incentive to enter a
contest.
--I have implemented LAL in my curriculum for over a decade as it promotes
great lessons in reflective writing.
Although students are sometimes reticent to share, it has worked out very
well, giving them a chance to have their voice emerge
through their letter.  It is a nice contrast to the critical essays and
research-based mediums we teachers often implement.
Over the years,  my secondary students have been recipients of honors, top
honors, honorable mention and semi-finalist awards.
They have been thrilled and especially elated to be welcomed at the State
House with recognition by the representatives from their
district, as well.  It is always such a rewarding ceremony and overall
experience.
--Students love the recognition for their love of literature and abilities
to write about their feelings.
--The program has been a wonderful opportunity for my students to get their
writing out of the classroom.
--I use LaL to launch themes of identity, home, immigration and current
issues Great resource and lessons for writing.
Connections to LAL (story + reflection) and the college essay writing. My
beginning of year go-to.
--In the past year or two, the deadline continued to creep closer and
closer to the start of the school year. For my first 10 years of
involvement,
letters were due in January, which allowed kids to walk away from their
letters for a chunk of time to work on other writing and then come
back to it with fresh eyes. The intense focus on getting letters complete,
from from brainstorming to final draft, in the first term of school is
really challenging. (This is particularly true for Jewish Day Schools in MA
who take off all of the major and minor holidays in the fall.
For the 2018-2019 school year, we only had 16 school days in the month of
September.)  However, despite the time constraints,
this is something that all of my students look forward to. The chance of
being singled out as a letter that made it to an advanced
round of judging is something that motivates even my most reluctant
writers. Rereading previous letters from our school inspires
them to dig deep and really look for books that had a special connection
for them. And our small school has had great results-
many of our students advance to the final round of judging each year, and
we often have at least one student be invited to the
State House, offering them an experience that they will remember for a
lifetime.
--Kids today are growing up in a different world that adults did, and as
such, they are getting increased opportunity to read
wonderful new works of literature that give them a chance to experience
life from someone who doesn't look or think like
them or that have similar experiences that they felt either empowered or
marginalized by. Letters About Literature shows
kids that reading and really thinking deeply about what they read is valued
by the adults in their lives. I hope that whatever
 decisions are made about LAL going forward, that funding for the program
is set and that you do not have to be on the funding roller coaster ever
again!
--My students have participated in this program and written these letters
to authors for numerous years, and I find these
letters are rich with insightful ideas and thoughtful, personal
connections.  The Center for the Book program
has been a "tradition" in my classroom that always is greeted with
excitement and enthusiasm.  Students remember
that sisters, brothers, and friends have participated during their 6th
grade year.  I even have had 7th graders come back
to me and ask to participate. I truly appreciate that I can assure the
students that this is a contest in which their work
is treated with respect and that, if a letter is chosen, the State House
ceremony is filled with "class" in regard
to these young writers.  I have been fortunate to attend the State
House ceremony a number of times and sincerely
appreciate the lovely attention that is given not only to the students but
also to their teachers. I know
my students expect to participate in this year's program, and in my
opinion, a state-run program would be excellent
because our state-run program  always has been.  I also appreciate the
terrific communication between
the program ( thank you, Sharon!) and the teachers involved.
Hopefully, this year's communication will include the
fact that the program is  continuing for our students because in
Massachusetts we (like the other states who will continue)
value this opportunity for our students to have another special outlet for
improving their talents as readers, thinkers and writers.
--It used to be part of my curriculum and it worked well. When it got taken
out of my curriculum, it was harder to get students to submit but I still
gave them the option.
--Submission last year was difficult as a teacher submitting dozens of
letters
--Response time for winners was too long.
--It has been an amazing part of teaching the value of literature, making
personal connections to the subject matter,
using literature to reflect upon life, and so much more. It has also proven
instrumental in teaching writing as a part of the Middle School curriculum.
--LAL has been terrific. My students have really enjoyed the opportunity to
reflect on the impact great books have had on their
lives. Many of my students have earned achievements for their writing,
which also brings so much satisfaction to my students.
This year's electronic submission platform was more arduous than in the
past, and I would say that this was the one drawback of the contest.
--This gives students a safe place to publish work.  This allows the
students to have an audience bigger than the teacher.
They await the winners with excitement every year.
--Supports curriculum
--Writing these letters helps students make personal connections to
literature- helps them see value in their independent reading
--I like how it gives kids a chance to think about what they’ve read and
write to the author.
--Fantastic! I have had multiple students win over the years. It’s been
incredible. Such a point of pride for my students and me.
--Worked well with paper submissions--the online will work for my high
school students if THEY can fill out online forms during class. I can't do
50 to 100 of these online forms.
--Great chance for students to reflect on their reading and, even more
importantly, write for a real audience (not just the teacher).
--It's connected students to the idea of being part of a network of writers
and readers. It's given a voice to quieter students.
--Very important to motivating reflective writing and the impact books can
have on ones life
--Haven't tried it yet.  Heard from other teachers it was fun.
--Reading is like theater in that is allows the "passive" participant to
experience a wide range of emotions and come to terms with
 his/her own life experiences.  By writing about that process the student
is able to articulate the problems/challenges experienced
and reflect on how he/she has come through them.
--It has helped to create stronger bonds/relationships in our school
community.  It has helped to foster a reading/writing community
and it has given students a healthy outlet for expression.  Only once did
we experience trouble with communication in notification of winners.
--It challenged both of my boys to express and reflect through reading and
writing.   Owens first letter when he was in six grade open
the door to him. The second largest theater in our state caught notice of
it and asked Owen to become the blogger for their Broadway
 series. Owen has continued in this role now for three years.
Participating and winning has improved his confidence and self-esteem.
It’s encouraged him to keep writing. It’s encouraged his love of writing
which has served him well in his academics. From my younger son.
He saw his older brother participating and wanted to participate too.
--Submission process time consuming and cumbersome
--Kids had a difficult time finding the time to complete their letters.
They also get very self-conscious when they see previous winners, which
isn't something that we can avoid.
--The letter writing links the author and the book to the real world.  The
idea of putting a stamp and their return address on an envelop, applying
the letter format, and acknowledging, when appropriate, the role of the
publisher is a genuine learning moment for students lost in email and the
social web.  The program also works for us as a reading reflection
opportunity (essential to the continuing development of deep readers
developing their critical thinking skills.)  It is great to have something
that reaches the kids beyond the classroom and gives them an opportunity to
further develop their personal independence by reaching out and
communicating with an accomplished author.  This program prompts students
to consider the MA Ctr for the Book and the Library of Congress (our mother
ship) while recognizing the more structured community related to the world
of books.
--Wonderful opportunity to get students to engage in real-world writing
experience that is thoughtful and creative.
--Participation by students has allowed them to explore what reading and
literature means to them on a personal level.  I think it also allows them
to reflect on the idea  that their experiences in life are not singular to
them as individuals.  In other words it allows them to begin to understand
that through literature they can gain both a better understanding of
themselves and of others and the world around them
--As I've said above, LAL is a great way to get upper elementary students
to tell about books rather than retell them. This is an important
distinction. The idea that there is a national contest and recognition at a
national and state level is highly motivating -- much more than if I just
assigned this type of writing. The sample lesson plans and videos are also
helpful. And, I've used other resources from the Library of Congress and
have felt that this contest is a way to showcase what civic institutions
can provide -- and in a very real and authentic way to my students.
--The students I work with benefit from opportunities for personal,
reflective writing, and for many years, this contest has inspired them to
produce some of their best written work.
--It has inspired my students to write about authors who have impacted
their interest in books and writing.
--Students have enjoyed the idea of having their work read and recognized
by those outside the classroom.
--See above. Have not yet participated.
--It is an important way for children to express what they are thinking as
readers and writers.

In Massachusetts I think we will run the program this year and see what our
numbers look like.  We won't use Submittable, but will create an online
form for submitters to fill in and then we will invite submissions by USPS
or as a single PDF attached to an email or uploaded to Dropbox (still
weighing those options).

Just thought you might be interested in the above ...

Regards,

Sharon


*********
Sharon Shaloo, Executive Director
Mass Center for the Book
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617.872.3718 (office)
massbook.org