Colby Sharp will tell you that he is a fifth grade teacher in Michigan, working hard to help his students “fall in love with reading.” And that is true, but Colby is so much more. He is:
- an author – The Creativity Project is a great gift for your favorite teacher, and The Commonsense Guide to Your Classroom Library (written with fellow reading rockstar Donalyn Miller) comes out September 2022
- a podcaster – give The Yarn a listen, it is guaranteed to raise your mood
- a blogger – your first stop for book recommendations
- a presenter – spreading his passion to educators everywhere
- a social media sensation – all over Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook with videos on new books, award predictions, book mail, and – my favorite – what his fifth graders are reading (keep an eye out for Read to Them authors in those stacks)
- a husband and dad, too!
We recently caught up with Colby to get some reflections from him on the 2021-2022 school year and what he is looking forward to. Enjoy!
We have heard from many educators that the 2021-2022 school year was like no other, with greater challenges to overcome. As you reflect on the past school year, were there some books, activities, or traditions in your classroom that were especially helpful to you and your students this year?
I feel like our read aloud time was more important than ever. My readers had spent so much time in isolation that this shared life-changing activity was even more special than it was pre-pandemic.
You are a big proponent of reading aloud to your fifth graders, even though too many people think that fifth graders are too old to be read aloud to. What does reading aloud add to your classroom?
Reading aloud is very important in the community building in our classroom. Kate DiCamillo was right when she said, “Stories connect us.” I like to read all sorts of things aloud to my fifth graders from poems to picture books to middle grade novels. When reading aloud novels, I really like books that are between 180 and 220 pages. That seems to be a pretty good sweet spot. I’m not the best at reading aloud books that are more than 300 pages.
We at Read to Them often look to your blog and videos to see what new books are catching on with your readers. Are there some older books that have staying power with your fifth graders?
Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is more than a decade old, but each year it is new to my readers and they LOVE IT. Kids just love great stories. It doesn’t matter if the book is brand new or a classic. Story always wins.
We all know that great teachers have a huge impact on helping students “fall in love with reading.” What about peers? Do you see an impact from peer relationships on the reading your students do?
I think that books are often a way that helps kids connect with readers that maybe are not in their immediate friend group. Readers love talking with other readers about books that they both love. Megan E. Freeman’s Alone was a book that connected so many of my readers last year. It never made it to the classroom library. It just kept getting passed from kid to kid.
Families play such an important role in a child’s reading success. How do you encourage families to feel important and empowered to join in on their student’s reading journey?
I try to take the pressure off. No reading logs or grades attached to reading outside of school. I send lots of messages to caregivers sharing the books that are impacting their kids. Most kids are not going to read every single night, and I share that with parents. I’ll take whatever I can get, and I stress the importance of trying to create an environment at home where reading is not a chore.
You probably have a teetering To Be Read pile like we do here at Read to Them. Now we are deep into summer, anything on your stack that we should be looking out for?
Be on the lookout for Amy King’s Attack of the Black Rectangles. It is going to rock your world!
Want to hear more from Colby about the importance of reading aloud? Check out this video he did for Read Aloud to a Child Week 2021.