“Do you have a minute? We have an idea we’d like to run past you.”
My colleagues Amy Menzel and Leah Tindall were all smiles. Big smiles. The kind that suggest sincere enthusiasm, huge plans, a ton of work, and the possibility of incredible results.
And boy, did they deliver.
This past Friday, Franklin High School hosted our first ever Readers’ Showcase.
Over 100 students shared their enthusiasm for literacy through the course of the entire school day, creating a sea of informative posters, book talks, literary swag, and sweet treats for enticing passersby to stop and learn about books ranging from The Draft by Pete Williams, to #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
Fresh off the heels of the incredible enthusiasm I detailed in this post about a choice reading frenzy at our school amidst the English department’s shift to readers and writers workshop, the showcase was a phenomenal way to keep students talking about books on a school wide scale.
As our Director of 9-12 Teaching and Learning Nick Kohn observed, “The love of reading was palpable throughout the entire building. I was particularly impressed not just with the depth and passion with which students talked about their books, but also with their excitement around the next book(s) they are planning to read.”
It was incredible to hear kids so excited to share their insights and recommendations with their peers and teachers and the organizers spoke passionately about loving to see their students engaged in “genuine conversations with authentic audience.”
I spoke with Brianna, a former student who read Devil in the White City.
“I wasn’t so sure about this book to start with, Mrs. Dennis,” Brianna smiled, “The detail. I thought it might get overwhelming, but it was incredible.”
“Right?!” I gushed, “Erik Larson is such a master with historical detail. Can you imagine his research process? Have you read Issac’s Storm? In the Garden of Beasts? Thunderstruck?”
“Whoa. How many books does he have? ”
And there, folks, is the power of reading.
One book, leads to one more book, leads to a student rediscovering reading.
And a showcase is one way to share over 100 books, in hopes that even just one more student finds that one book.
Even more exciting is the sheer number of students sharing their interests with those who might be new to a particular topic. My husband referred to it as “cross pollination.” For all of us dreaming of spring, I thought this was quite a fitting metaphor. Students interacted with the sincere enthusiasm of their peers in relation to a great variety of topics and took away with them ideas about texts that might never have reached their attention otherwise. Each new booth was a new opportunity discuss a book that their peers were already validating. Worker bees making something sweet to share!
Amy and Leah did amazing work to make this first annual Reader’s Showcase a success.
Here’s how they did it!
Start with a desire to promote reading with your students. We know that students are far more apt to read what interests them. They are human, after all. So, promoting choice texts is the way to go.
Last week, I came across an article in English Leadership Quarterly that spoke to this very principle. “Top Five Reasons We Love Giving Students Choice in Reading,” details what supporters of readers workshop already live and breathe. To allow students to choose texts, not only empowers them as readers, but shows that we as educators value their opinions. Once that confidence is built, it allows for the type of real and meaningful conversations around texts that we educators can’t get enough of, because it involves passion on the part of our students.
Build that excitement by having kids get out and talk with others about what they read. Interest is built around texts that are visible and accessible to kids. And while we do our darnedest to fuel the fire with passionate book talks in our classrooms (my students have noted me tearing up and actually jumping around while talking about books), posters advocating literacy, student discussion on choice books, “what to read” lists, and more, sometimes you need to go big.
The showcase put on by our College Preparatory Language and Composition classes (comprised of juniors and seniors) took place in our high school library and featured over 100 students. That’s big.
Organization for the event included:
- An invite to the entire school to bring classes down for 20 minute showcase visits with their classes.
- Promotion via posters around school, a segment on our school news program, “Ask Me About My Book” buttons for all participants, and a fully decorated library to set the scene.
- A Reader’s Theatre book talk room to orient each visiting class where students entered, heard book talks from a rotating group of students, and were briefed on what they could find in the showcase.
- Book Booths manned throughout the day by students who supplied their insights and some sort of takeaway for guests (laminated bookmarks and themed treats were popular choices).
Students were expected to:
- Complete their text by the assigned day.
- Prepare a visually appealing tri-fold poster with the quotes they found to be most impactful, interesting facts about the text and/or the author, a recommendation section as to who might enjoy the book, and visual connections to the big ideas within the text. Students could also include reference to author blogs/websites that visitors might want to check out.
- Prepare several note cards with favorite quotes. Interested teachers could ask their visiting students to take a note card, find the corresponding booth, and ask the book talker to share why he/she chose that quote.
- Enthusiastically run their book booths throughout the day for the steady stream of classes that came through.
And while the event itself and student preparation, obviously took a lot of work, the day itself was focused on fun.
Students nibbled on cake and perused book selections.
Teachers watched their students dash from booth to booth playing Showcase Bingo.
There were even book and gift card giveaways throughout the showcase, generously donated by our school principal. Rachelle, one of my students was lucky enough to win the new book Binge by Tyler Oakley (I felt super old when half my class of sophomores could not believe that I didn’t know who Tyler Oakley was. We looked him up. My list of books to read grows again). When we got back upstairs, Rachelle said, “It’s like they knew exactly what I would want to read.” Yup. It seems great books are falling from the sky these past few weeks. It’s awesome.
Finally, set aside some time for reflection. Amy and Leah’s big smiles paid off in a big way. The event was incredibly well received by not only the students that participated, but the students, staff, and administration that visited.
We are all already chatting about ideas for next year’s event. For example, the ladies plan to incorporate even more opportunities for fellow teachers to provide feedback on conversations with students and analysis of their visuals, thus sharing the load of assessment.
It’s all about sharing.
Share your love of reading with your students.
Ask them to turn around and share their love of reading with their peers.
One book, leads to one more book, leads to 100+ books in one day.
Do you have questions on organizing a Reader’s Showcase or ideas from a similar event at your own school? Please share your questions and ideas in the comments below!