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Tools of the Trade: March Madness

By Rita Sorrentino

I always enjoy the transition from one month to another. I delight in turning the pages on my wall calendar with a feeling of newness, encouragement and opportunity. Even now, while I do value the convenience of managing time and productivity with digital devices and tools, I still hang on to a yearly calendar. Its lovely colorful images beautify the wall space and my preference to keep it unmarked reminds me to take a long view of what matters.

When March arrived a few days ago I remembered a verse from a poem I learned in my elementary school days, “March brings breezes, loud and shrill, to stir the dancing daffodil” (The Garden Year by Sara Coleridge). It’s similar to the familiar “lion and lamb” predictions for unpredictable March. Both shed light on our yearning for longer warmer days and colorful surroundings.

My grandmother’s phrase “Marzo Pazzo” although attributed to the uncertainty of weather can also be a useful term to describe the upcoming phenomenon of “March Madness” when many sports fans’ fancies turn to thoughts of bubble teams and brackets. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) generates a lot of excitement as teams vie to be included in “Sweet Sixteen,” “Elite Eight,” “Final Four,” and then onto the championship game. Some fans take it very seriously while others fill out their brackets just for the fun of it.

This national phenomenon of brackets became an entryway for literary journals, librarians, and schools to promote interest and discussion of books during March Book Madness. In 2015, Ohio teachers Tony Keefer (@tonykeefer) and Scott Jones (@escott818) took their classroom versions to a wider audience of global online participants. From the collection of selected titles of books, students vote for their favorites, either individually or a class, via a Google Form for each round of the voting bracket. Twitter chats provide conversations between participating classrooms with opportunities to connect with characters and to experience other points of view. Although I am not keen on partnering competition with the joy of reading, I have seen enthusiasm and energy for books and lively conversations in classes I visited. Teachers often do book talks to inspire students to read new books and widen their repertoire of genres and authors. Click here to access a list of 2018 books for the Picture Book Bracket, Middle Grade Bracket and Young Adult Bracket. Scoot Jones and Tony Keefer provide tips for setup, organization and participation to spread the love of books and reading. Even for classes that have not registered to participate, it might be beneficial to become familiar with the books and authors for future reading.

Read Across America is a familiar reading motivation program that garners a lot of attention to coincide with the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Although you are never too old to enjoy Dr. Seuss, the celebration of Read Across America is a great opportunity to become familiar with books about particular states and regions of our country and/or study authors from a particular state and examine the role of setting in literature. The National Education Association has posted a “50 State Booklist” with a selection of fiction and non-fiction for readers of all ages. It might be helpful to pair this list with other suggestions throughout the year. For example, Colours of Us provides reviews of newly published multicultural books. These lists help us evaluate the diversity of topics, authors and serve as springboards for compiling, as a class or school project, a comprehensive list that reflects the world we live in.

With these spotlights on the importance of reading during the Month of March, I am pondering the clever commercial by Audible claiming ‘Listening is the New Reading.” Yes, it is very convenient to listen to books on the go for information and entertainment. Certainly, audiobooks enhance reading and provide support for readers, but will they ever replace the act of reading as the advertisement from Audible claims? Audiobooks provide opportunities to multitask which appeals to those who don’t have time to read. Audiobooks can level the field for students struggling with decoding by giving them a means to improve vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. Participating in class activities and discussions with fellow classmates reading the same book can build their self-confidence and help sustain interest in reading. There are undoubtedly pros and cons to consider for each format depending on purpose for reading.

Ruth Farmer, a writer, coach and poet unpacks Audible’s clever slogan in her blog, “Is Listening the New Reading?” Although appreciative of how audiobooks fit into the routines of her multitasking personality, she clarifies the overlapping functions of these forms of communication. Depending on content and purpose, she suggests intermingling the visual aspect of reading with the narration (and performance) of the spoken word.

In our fast-paced society, speed listening is a current choice for those who desire to consume greater amounts of information in less time. With the ability to adjust the playback speeds and sync between devices, listeners are finding a more efficient way to consume content. I’m willing to give this a try – just a tad bit faster, definitely not at ‘chipmunk’ speed.

What is your reading/listening pleasure? Are you participating in a literary tournament, promoting reading for pleasure, or experimenting with new ways of reading/listening? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Rita Sorentino taught at Overbrook Elementary in the School District  of  Philadelphia. She studied Reading Specialist/Education at Saint Joseph’s University.Rita is a fellow of the PA Writing & Literature Project. She is currently studying Italian and writes regularly on technology issue for the pawlpblog.  Rita lives in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. janiceewing #

    Rita, I enjoyed the way you wove together the various threads of reading in March. I prefer hard copy books to digital, although the convenience of digital is undeniable. I also prefer the act of reading to listening to audio books, but it’s great for students to know what their options are, and that reading can take many forms, at different times and for different purposes. Your post makes me think that helping students to find their preferred way of reading/listening, in addition to their preferred genres and formats, would be of value in developing reading identities.


    March 14, 2018

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