The Importance of Being Reflective (as well as Earnest)

ocsI’m going to be honest…I’m feeling pretty bummed as I sit here to write this post. I have had my first “wish-I-could-do-over” teaching days of the school year.  I haven’t felt this icky about a teaching day since…2005.  Oh Amy, you would have flipped out to see my utter lack of zen today.

It’s all too easy for me to focus on what I’ve not been doing well this year, how I have been falling oh-so-very short.  But I’m going to view this opportunity to reflect on my practice as a way to reset and to return to the core of my teaching soul for the coming week.

One bright spot in all of my classes this year has been a small change I’ve made in how I talk about books. One thing Penny Kittle emphasized this past summer (love to #UNHLit13) was the importance of book talks as part of her class every day.  I’ve always gushed about books I’m reading (see Shana’s post “Fangirling About Books”, which may as well have been my post! Kindred spirits!), and I’ve always prided myself on being able to match students with books that resonate with them.  But I decided to make book talks a regular part of each day, right after starting class with independent reading.

This Monday I’ll talk about books #51 (Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan) and #52 (Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan).  My students like finding the connection between the two books, though the connection between these is kind of obvious!

There are myriad benefits to having these daily book talks.  Some of the great books I read from and talk about are new to my students, and sometimes there are some who have read them already.  This has created community and conversation around books, as students share opinions, do their own spontaneous plugs for the books, ask questions, and start fighting about who gets to read them first!  Students started a Book Wait List on the white board.

It has surprised me how much the students enjoy the book talks.  One day a couple weeks ago, I forgot to book talk (it’s a verb now!), and Stephanie, who doesn’t ever say anything in class raised her hand and asked, “Are you not going to talk about a book today?”  When a new student joined our class, I had Noe help her get oriented, setting up her notebook and so forth.  I overheard her say, “After we read, she introduces a couple of books. It’s one of my favorite parts of class, no joke.  There’s a lot of cool books she shows us.”  The other day, students pointed out that I neglected to update the titles for book talks on the agenda.

All of the energy around books has helped create a culture of reading in our classroom so that even the most reluctant readers are giving books a try. The books have become a bridge between me and some of the students who are typically “hard to reach.”  It’s still a challenge to be sure, and there are days some students are fake reading, but for the most part, students are realizing the books are here to stay!

For me, it’s always easier to dwell on the negative, but when I stop to think about it, there are quite a few things going well. It’s a process, and I’m growing and figuring out how to make my class an authentic reading and writing workshop. It is a source of strength to know there are people in my PLN all over the country striving to do the same!

(Coming up next month: How to respond to the question, “How do you assess that?!”)


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3 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Reflective (as well as Earnest)

  1. Amy October 5, 2013 at 11:45 am Reply

    Aww. We all have those days. No punching in the face, Shana. I remember PK reminding us, “You have to choose to do this, which means not doing this.” If I remember that, I can turn any bad teaching moment into a good one. My non-negotiable every day: reading 10 min, conferring individually with students, book talk/s. If my mini-lesson flops, or nothing else gets done, I know my students have had a positive interaction with reading, and that’s more than enough to make up for anything else. I miss you, chicas, wishing you continued success in your readers/writers workshop practices.


  2. Erika B. October 5, 2013 at 10:26 am Reply

    A visual Book Wait List = Brilliance! Chin up, CA…you are making moves above and beyond…and your students are luckier, smarter, and reading more than ever because of it!

    Entering week six of the school year with #51 and #52 is an incredible amount of literature to have publicly exposed students to; forget about the amazing library that welcomes them daily. Which, by the way, we are all still waiting to see!

    Much love,


  3. shanakarnes October 5, 2013 at 10:17 am Reply

    Hello, kindred spirit! How ironic…I was going to write about assessment for my next post!! Looks like I will have to find something else! 🙂

    It is a joy to read your writing, once again. I had a terrible teaching day on Tuesday. I seriously wanted to punch myself in the face. But then Wednesday and Thursday were full of similar nuggets of hope (“who’s the author of that one again? You forgot to write it on the booktalk paper.” “Hey [new student] Daniel, I’m Matt; let me help you organize your writer’s notebook.”) RWW isn’t a panacea, but it’s pretty darn close, huh?

    Stay strong on the West Coast, my friend. Miss you!!


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