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Pleasantville's bedtime reading project began in November 2019 and helped students and staff transition to home-based learning in March 2020.

Pleasantville staff use bedtime stories to connect with students

By Renee Alford, Pleasantville Education Association

For generations, bedtime stories have provided treasured memories for those lucky enough to experience them. Bonding with a parent or family member over picture books, chapter books, funny stories or scary stories; each book experience is a part of who we are today. The experience has created lasting memories, contributed to a love of reading and helped us create a deeper bond with family.  Hopefully many of you have bedtime story memories that you cherish too.

Teresa McGaney-Guy, principal of North Main Street School in Pleasantville also had such memories, so when she was looking for a way to connect to her students through reading, the idea of bedtime stories began to form in her mind.

“My first desire was to promote the love of reading, and the second was to enhance the connection that I have with my students”, states Ms. McGaney-Guy. Connecting to her students is an important part of McGaney-Guy’s leadership role as principal. “Building relationships with students is the key to creating quality learning experiences.  As we make connections with students we gain their trust, which allows them to be more active in the learning process.”

Any new initiative requires a vision, thoughtful planning and the necessary resources.  The Principal Bedtime Stories initiative was no different. McGaney-Guy envisioned creating a weekly bedtime routine that would enhance her student’s life at home, contribute to a love of reading and go on to embrace siblings or other family members. 

This initiative could not be rolled out to every classroom at the same time. Planning for a pilot classroom would allow the process to play out in a more manageable way. I was lucky enough to be one of the teachers in the second-grade inclusion classroom that was selected to pilot the Principal Bedtime Stories. Mr. Matt Barnard is the other teacher and he knew the benefits would outweigh any challenges to this program.

He states, “When iPads went home I pictured a scale, one side was the challenges of the iPads potentially getting lost and generating more work on the teacher’s part; however, on the other side, was the chance that we gave our students to extend their learning. With that being said, that scale has always tilted towards the benefit of the student.”

As a literacy leader in our school and the lead reading instructor in our classroom, I already understood the benefits of developing a love of reading at an early age as well as the impact 20 minutes of reading at home can have on a student and their reading ability. Students who are encouraged and given the opportunities to read independently will improve their reading skills, stay more engaged and motivated and are more likely to actually enjoy reading. Students who read at home for 20 minutes a day will hear exponentially more words than their peers who do not, have better language development and are more likely to outscore the majority of their peers on standardized test.

This was definitely a learn as you go initiative. Questions during our planning sessions included what books could we select that would appeal to all our students, what format would be used to present the bedtime story, how would the students be introduced to the book and what follow up or extension activities would be put in place after the reading. North Main Street School was recently designated an Apple Distinguished School and each student has one to one connectivity with iPads. That was the necessary resource that was needed to make this initiative possible.

However, the iPads had never gone home so this was new territory in the planning process. Also, getting the teachers and students on board was one thing, getting buy-in from the parents was another. Sending a second-grade student home with an iPad is a big responsibility in the eyes of the parents. At the school, we understood the risk as well, but from the beginning we knew that this initiative was worth the risk of not getting a device back the next day. McGaney-Guy has never allowed the possibility of losing or damaging an iPad get in the way of students receiving the most out of their education. “The iPad is a tool in the learning process it’s not an add-on or event in education. The students use technology as they would use their pencil, paper, or books. We taught our students all learning tools are valuable and we implemented a plan for students to take ownership and protect their learning tools,” said McGaney-Guy.

Technology coordinator, Tim Kelly also understood the importance and was able to assign past generation iPads as dedicated home iPads to our students. “Sending the devices home is a benefit to the students on multiple levels. Not all parents are in a position to purchase iPads or other mobile devices for their children to use at home, through our Principal’s Bedtime Stories initiative we are making that happen.”

The initiative moved forward with a permission slip put in place for the parents, a dedicated home iPad given to each student, along with a weekly time slot for McGaney-Guy to deliver the lesson and message to the students. Keynote, a presentation app for iPads, was the format we decided to use to deliver the bedtime story. Once a book was selected a screencast could be created and embedded into a Keynote presentation slide, along with a slide dedicated to a message from McGaney-Guy, and a follow-up slide for the student activity. The Principal Bedtime Story initiative began this past November.  

When it came to selecting the actual bedtime story we used a variety of sources and criteria.  Aside from videotaping a read aloud from a hard copy book we were also able to select digital books from the Epic online library and screencast a reading, we were able to select Epic digital books already in the “read to me” format. 

Additionally, Storyline Online, an award-winning free website featuring celebrated actors reading authentic texts, was also a great resource. Stories were selected based on a variety of factors; holidays, reading comprehension skills and books that McGaney-Guy loved when she was in the classroom.  Without a doubt, those were closest to her heart and the ones she most enjoyed sharing. McGaney-Guy shares, “I selected books that fostered empathy to help build my students’ character.  I selected books to build vocabulary and to teach my students to think critically.”

While we wanted this to be an initiative that created deeper connections and promoted a love of reading we also wanted to make sure that there was some accountability to the initiative as well.  As a team we agreed to extend the bedtime story into a literacy activity that would be simple enough for the students to complete independently. Response activities included sketches and personal connection or vocabulary work. The students were given flexibility and choice in deciding which app to use to share their work. Choice is essential to enhance student motivation and engagement and allows us to differentiate for all our learners.

McGaney-Guy did not necessarily read each bedtime story personally, but she made the important personal connection to the students before and after each bedtime story session. She also embedded personal messages into the Keynote bedtime story presentation. Of utmost importance were those face to face interactions with her students. She understood the importance of those conversations and how they would set the students up for a successful experience. A highlight of this experience became the student sharing time the next day, that’s when we truly were able to see their creativity shine and students got to learn more about each other. It gave all of us a stronger bond and connection.

While some parents were initially hesitant about the idea, with concerns of liability or even the necessity of it initiative, the majority of parents embraced the idea and grew to appreciate how it drew siblings or the family closer together. According to parent Maria Lopez, “The bedtime stories were great. Natanael enjoyed them and looked forward to doing the activity before bedtime. It actually became a family activity that my other two sons enjoyed. The baby would love to come join us and listen to the story and look at the pictures. It’s a fun activity for Natanael and a bonus for our family!”

One key aspect of this initiative is how it set our students and families up for remote learning.  When we started this journey, we had no idea that there would be a transition from school-based learning to home-based learning. Students and parents who participated in the initiative were very comfortable and confident using the iPad at home. Assigning school work remotely is now seamless for our students and they are able to interact confidently with their iPad to complete distance learning assignments.

As we plan for the future of the Principal’s Bedtime Stories initiative we look to impact more students and families. Each of the bedtime stories has already been posted to a YouTube channel and are now available for other classes and families to enjoy. McGaney-Guy would also like to explore and expand on ways to develop stronger connections with the parents moving forward. 

One thing is for sure, this is only the beginning of the story.

Visit Pleasantville’s Principal’s Bedtime Stories Youtube page to view their project.