Category Archives: Boys & Literacy

Mini-Lesson Monday: Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?

It’s the end of our nine weeks. Well, kinda. I have one class of English 3 students that are at midterm since they are on accelerated block, and I’ve got two classes of AP English Lang who I share with AVID every other day in a year-long class, so they are at about the 4.5 weeks mark. Talk about crazy trying to keep the pacing straight and everyone moving.

One thing I know:  All my readers need to revisit the goals they set for themselves the first week of school. We’re going to start with independent reading. I’ve seen a little too much of this lately:

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Taken after exams when I suggested students use the time to read.

and not enough of this:

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Daily routine: 15 minutes of independent reading

I set the standard high and ask my students to read three hours a week. This is difficult for busy teenagers who are not used to reading (and if we are honest, many are not used to completing any type of homework).

We will read this article this week “Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?” and create our personal reading challenge cards. But before we do, I want to get students thinking about themselves as readers and what reading can, and should, mean to them and what they hope to accomplish in their lives.

Objective:  Interpret a quote on the importance of reading and connect it to my own reading life; construct a plan to help me meet my reading goals.

Lesson:  Students will select up two literacy/reading quotes and glue them into their writer’s notebooks. They will then think about their reading habits over the past several weeks of school and write a response to the quotes that connects their reading experiences (or not) and begin constructing a plan on what they can do differently in the upcoming weeks to either continue to grow as readers, or start to.

Follow-up: Later in the week we will also read “The Insane Work Ethic of Mark Cuban, Jeff Bezos, and 15 Other Powerful Leaders” and write a synthesis-type response using the two articles and their personal goals for reading.

Please share in the comments your ideas for getting and keeping students developing their reading lives.

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How Conferring and a Book Solved the Tissue Issue, and Hopefully, Much More #FridayReads

You know the boys who cannot sit still? I’ve got a gaggle of them in my second period. Now, I’m not talking about elementary school kids, nor middle school. I’m talking about the juniors I teach in high school.

No sooner do I blink, and at least one of them is up walking to the tissue box. He’ll slowly take a tissue. Saunter on back to his seat (for about three minutes — I’ve timed it) and then waltz on over to the trash can to throw the tissue away and then mosey on back to his seat.

With eight of these guys, it’s constant motion. And I need Dramamine.

One class period. Five days. Two boxes of tissues. Gone.

At the end of that first very long week, I realized the reality. All kinds of memories flooded back from Tom Newkirk’s class “Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture”at UNH Lit Institute the summer of 2015.  (If you haven’t read Tom’s book Misreading Masculinity:  Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture, it’s insightful.)

My tissue-loving boys were posturing all over the place, and somehow I needed to stop the Tissue Issue.

It’s been easier than I thought. Really, it’s all about getting them into books they want to read.

On the first day of school, I’d prepped my room with stacks of colorful engaging books on every table. We did a book pass and wrote down titles we thought we’d like to read. I showed my passion for books and reading, and my students rolled their eyes at my request they read for three hours a week.

“No way,” I heard one young man mutter, “I ain’t reading.”

This attitude doesn’t deter me.

Even if they were faking it, after just a few days and lots of one-on-one mini-conferences, every kid in a class of 30 at least looked like they were reading. Except two.

I invited these two separately into the hall for private chats about their social PATT (party all the time) moves in the classroom.

“You know, they all follow your lead, right? I need you working with me to make this class work.”

Both agreed, and I asked them to shake my hand on it.

But old habits die hard.

Then, today — 13 days into the school year — gold.

Book gold.

“Hey, Mrs. Ras, can I talk to you in the hall?

“Do you think you could help me find a different book to read — one with music. You already know I like music.” I remembered his free verse rap at the end of class last Friday.

“So give me some ideas –”

“Well, something like that book JaBo’s reading…the long way one.”

A Long Way Gone?” (I’m trying to remember if there’s any music in this memoir about a child soldier.)

Both of my copies were checked out. I had to think fast. Crash Boom Love, a novel in verse by Juan Felipe Herrera, National Poet Laureate, flashed in the corner of my eye. (Thank you, poetry shelf just inside the door.)

We flipped through the pages, and I explained that it’s a book written in verse — all poems that make a complete story.

“You mean like one long poem?”

“Yep. Do you want to trade me this book for that one?” I said nodding at My Friend Dahmer, the graphic novel in his hand he’d been fake reading for 12 days. (I know he chose it for the pictures. “It’s weird” is all he could tell me in our first conference.)

Not six seconds after we’d entered the room, I saw Kameron flipping through the pages and showing his new book to JaBo.

That’s when you know you’ve got them — or at least got a chance at getting them to read — when they do a book talk to their friend before they’ve even read a page.

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Meet Kameron. He may be a famous rapper one day.

I love this work with adolescent readers. I know we can change lives as we help young people grow in literacy skills, as we help them recognize themselves in books, and help them see others so different from themselves in the books they read.

It might be the only hope we have as a nation. Empathy, compassion, tolerance, justice, mercy, and love all wait for discovery like healing treasure and hope in the pages of the books we share with our students.

And when that book gold finally glistens — well, that’s when I have to cross the room for a tissue.

 

 

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#FridayReads — A Book about Death to Teach Writing?

Last Saturday my niece and I attended the North TX Teen Book Festival.

Hundreds of teens stormed the book sales and stood in lines to get signatures from their favorite authors. Authors shared stories about their craft and their books while grouped in panels with interesting names like “‘Just a Small Town Girl’ Small towns — Big Stories,” and “‘The Book Boyfriend’ Sometimes Boys in Books are Better,” and “‘We’re Young and We’re Reckless, We’ll Take This Way Too Far’ Exploring mature situations in YA.

Raistlyn took notes. She is 14, a prolific poet, and is writing a novel.

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New books added to by to read next list.

For our last event of the day, we crowded in an overflowing room to listen to Holly Black, James Dashner, Sarah Dessen, Gayle Forman, Ruta Sepetys, Margaret Stohl talk about what it is like when books become movies. We oohed and aahed and laughed as they told of their experiences. (Margaret Stohl is funny!)

School busses lined the streets, and I cheered that so many teachers thought to bring their students. I did not. We were out of school the day before, and thanks to my poor planning, I never got around to getting a field trip approved.

I kicked myself after.

But I got a lot of great book recommendations, and my TBR tower is now named Eiffel.

I only bought one book. (Don’t tell. My husband and I have a bet to see who can resist 18883231buying books the longest.) I bought Denton Little’s Death Date by Lance Rubin because I heard the author talk with such excited wonder about this story and his experience writing it.

It’s the story of a boy who knows the date of his death. He knows because that’s the way it goes in his world — everyone knows the day they will die. Morbid, you say? Maybe.

But this is a comedy.

Hooked me. I need more books with laughs in my classroom library, and so far, this one does not disappoint. Here’s the excerpt I will share when I book talk this book:

Excerpt from Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin p 66-67

I know different people and cultures have varying approaches to death, so in case you don’t know about the tradition of the Sitting, here’s the deal:  whilst waiting for death, you sit. You generally end up in a room of your house, probably the family room (ideally not the living room because the irony of that is too hilarious and stupid), where you’re joined by your immediate family and whoever else has been invited:  cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, girlfriends, best friends, and so on. Everybody communes and celebrates and waits for something to happen.

And something always happens.

Heart attack, stray bullet, seizure, fallen bookshelf or tree, stabbing, tornado, tumble down the stairs, strangling, drug overdose, fire, aneurysm. Not to mention the basics:  old age, cancer, pneumonia, other fatal illnesses. People have gone to great lengths to try and survive, but you just can’t. This guy, Lee Worshanks, in Pennsylvania, spent years working on what he called a Safety Room, the perfect place in which to spend his deathdate:  ideal temperature, rubber walls, dull-edged furniture, the works. When the Big Day rolled around, the room’s complicated security system somehow malfunctioned, and Lee found himself locked out. After hours of failed attempts to get inside his perfect room, he went a little nuts. He ended up electrocuted by some kind of circuit panel in the basement. So pretty much every possible variation on death in a house has happened to at least someone in the past few decades.

But you don’t know what the variation is, and you don’t know when in the day it will happen. That’s why the Sitting has always seemed insane to me. Who would ever want to be sitting in a room with their family for twenty-four hours straight? How is that anybody’s idea of a happy way to die?

Besides liking the narrator’s voice, I love how Rubin structures some of these sentences. This is a great passage to discuss syntax.  Look at that stand alone single sentence paragraph. Look at the lists and the use of the colon. And I love all those sentences that start with conjunctions. My students think that’s a grammatical error, and that leads to interesting discussions about why a writer might start a sentence with and or but or so.

I also love that example:  “This guy, Lee Worshanks, in Pennsylvania, spent years working on what he called a Safety Room, the perfect place in which to spend his deathdate. . .”

My students struggle with developing their ideas by using appropriate and convincing evidence. Here, right in a passage from a YA novel, is an example of an example I will use to illustrate examples with my writers. (My nerd factor is pretty high right now, isn’t it?)

Here’s the thing:  I loved attending that book festival with my niece. I loved listening to authors talk about their writing. I loved getting new ideas for books to share with my readers. And I really love that I found this one little passage in a pretty clever book about how we face and talk about death I can use with my students.

Reading is fun. Isn’t it?

*Note:  Did you know there’s a site that will predict the date you will die?

Reading Challenges for Growth, Connection, and Reflection

My students complete a reading ladder at the end of each quarter, during which they reflect on their reading from that nine weeks, write about the texts they read, and set goals for the following quarter.  When I read first quarter’s reading ladders, almost every student said one of their goals was to challenge themselves either with a book in a new genre or a more difficult length/writing style/topic.

So, I challenged them formally during second quarter to read a book outside their comfort zone, then write an essay that showed me that process.  I love Jak’s essay about his chosen challenge book–Cut by Patricia McCormick.  While this text is short and not full of especially difficult vocabulary, it challenged him because of its topic–self-harm and depression.  His essay is full of voice, text evidence, and text-to-self connections.  It’s a strong piece of writing that helped Jak reflect on his reading of this book, and is just one of many authentic alternatives to a traditional method of reading assessment.


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“A Challenging Cut” by Jak McMillen

Ready, Tropics? 1, 2, 3! LET’S GET TROPI—actually, let’s get dark for a moment. Let’s talk about Patricia McCormick’s Cut, a challenging and rough look into the mind of a depressed teen named Callie. Cue synopsis mode! To get into this mindset, Callie cuts herself. Never too deep, never enough to die, but just enough to feel the pain. Because she cuts, she’s been placed in Sea Pines, a treatment facility where everyone has a problem in one way or another. The only problem with Callie here is that she doesn’t speak, and for the most part refuses to throughout the book. Okay, synopsis mode over.

Now, Karnes, I’m assuming you have grown tired of the banter and have asked, “Well, how does this challenge you?” I’ll answer that shortly. In my essay earlier typed this year Of Mice and Misery, I cited one particular moment of my life that still affects me to this day, that of which being my father’s unfortunate passing. Now, my shell opens up more through this essay to share some of the past that I hold back.

Throughout my schooling years, I’ve found myself growing more and more tired of everyday tasks, even so far as just waking up and dressing myself. I could even use yesterday as an example: I had already felt like nothing more than dust the night before, which carried over to the next day. After coming back from MTEC the feeling was still there and unexplained, just as Callie’s feelings through the first parts of Cut. For me this is a culmination of years upon years of dark and harrowing thoughts of self-harm, and unfortunately at some points, even thoughts of suicide. Over the years of therapy some of these thoughts are still here. Now… I know that you probably didn’t want, nor did you need, to read that information, but I had to be relatable somehow, right?

41jIgmsYB+LAfter breaking her silence to her therapist, in their time between pages 122-125, Callie exposes her scars and tells what she uses. At one point in this segment, she says “Guess I’ll never wear a strapless ball gown,” from which I related in my own thoughts as feeling like I would never be good enough. Callie’s thoughts—as well as my own, but not in the book of course—were at most unexplained until later in the text. Cut took a vast amount of effort to read, and for this I praise McCormick for putting the amount of effort she did into writing this title.

When I read this title, it hit very close to home, and still does. I guess that’s why it’s such a challenge for me to read. Also, for the love of all that is holy, please do not take this as a cry for help or a sob story. I’ve moved on mostly and do not need any more sympathy than I’ve already received. Do know that it is much appreciated though! In closing I would like to say something Callie said once: “I may not want to get rid of my scars. They tell a story.”


How do you encourage your students to make personal connections to their reading?

10 Pedagogical Must-Reads for Workshop Teachers

IMG_0650I met with my new student teacher a few weeks ago, and he asked me to borrow any books that might help him get going on the readers-writers workshop–the “theory” version of Jackie’s starter kit.  He’s been in my classroom before, so he knows the general routine and character of our work, but he wanted to know the ins and outs of how I thought and planned and conceptualized the whole thing.

I sat at my desk and looked at all of the titles I had on hand, remembering how influential reading them for the first time had been.  As a result, it was hard not to just dump my entire professional bookshelf onto a cart for him, but I managed to pick out a few titles that have guided me most adeptly in one aspect or another of my current classroom practice.

  1. Book Love by Penny Kittle – This was the book that helped to solidify my vision of an ideal classroom.  Before I read it, I had already been doing many of the best practices Penny mentions–writer’s notebooks, choice reading, personalized writing.  But I didn’t know how to bring it all together until Book Love.  As such, this is my #1 recommendation for any teacher looking to jump-start their individualized workshop curriculum.
  2. Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle – This book introduced me to the concepts of mentor texts, reading like a writer, and best draft/publication of writing.  I learned about quickwrites, constant revision, writing conferences, and a great deal more of what are now standard routines in my classroom.  This is the book for anyone curious about the big picture of writing instruction.
  3. Finding the Heart of Nonfiction by Georgia Heard – I was raised in the tradition of literature as containing mostly fiction and poetry, but Penny’s books helped me see the great value of nonfiction.  I wanted to know how to integrate it well into my thematic units, and this book helped me do that.  Georgia’s book is full of wisdom about finding the soul of good nonfiction writing and matching it to your students’ needs.
  4. Choice Words by Peter Johnston – This book taught me how to talk to students.  It is my #1 recommendation for anyone looking to address those pesky Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core–this book teaches you about the delicate, volatile power of a few choice words between you and your students.  I re-read it every year, and it might be the most important book in this stack.
  5. Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones by Tom Newkirk – This book is subtitled “Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For,” and Tom Newkirk certainly made me want to engage some of my former teachers in fisticuffs when I finished it.  This text is full of common-sense brilliance that will transform the way you think about why we teach reading and what kinds of texts we teach.
  6. Boy Writers by Ralph Fletcher – Why do my students keep writing about violent gun battles?  Why do they always ask if they can swear in their writing?  What’s up with the complete unwillingness of my boys to be vulnerable?  If you’ve asked yourself these questions…this book is for you.  Ralph writes about everything you ever wondered about boy writers and how to move them forward in their writing.
  7. Readicide by Kelly Gallagher – Schools have been killing reading for many years, Kelly argues, and then presents ways you can stop the slaughter.  He fires away at pop quizzes, assigned chapters, multiple-choice tests, and all the practices that steer our students toward SparkNotes.  Then he reveals ways to get students authentically engaging in literature in a way that doesn’t kill their love of reading.
  8. Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts – After finishing Readicide and wanting to abandon the eight or so whole-class novels I once felt chained to, I wasn’t sure how to teach close reading skills.  This book answered that question for me, and more.  Chris and Kate reveal how to use poems, articles, short stories, and selections from novels to get kids interacting with the beauty and power of language in all kinds of texts.
  9. Reading Ladders by Teri Lesesne – When all of your students have finally found a book they will actually read–then what?  Teri Lesesne taught me how to help students climb a reading ladder of text complexity with this book.  It’s a tough battle to get all kids reading, but it’s even tougher to get them to all challenge themselves once they are.  Reading ladders are the solution to the increasing complexity question–now they’re a consistent part of my instruction.
  10. Revision Decisions by Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean – After reading the first nine books on this list, I still wasn’t sure where grammar instruction fit in.  I knew to have students read like writers and learn from language and sentence structures that way, but I wasn’t sure how to structure my mini-lessons, until I read this book.  Jeff and Deborah helped me find strong craft study lessons and bring them into the classroom in a way that appealed to students and also benefited them immediately in their writing.

This is by no means an exhaustive list–That Workshop Book by Stephanie Harvey, Read Write Teach by Linda Rief, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, and many other integral titles were simply not on my shelf when I gave this stack to Mike.  But these top ten are ones I wouldn’t be the same teacher without.

What other titles are essential to your practice?  Please share in the comments!

Update:  Here are must-read folks that readers have suggested via Twitter and Facebook, as well as in the comments:

  1. Lucy Calkins
  2. Nancie Atwell
  3. Linda Rief
  4. Katie Wood Ray
  5. Donalyn Miller
  6. Don Graves
  7. Donald Murray
  8. Peter Elbow
  9. Ariel Sacks
  10. James Moffett
  11. Louise Rosenblatt

Five things you can do to guarantee your students will read

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. [Books are] so endlessly delicious.”
― Ruth Reichl

I’ve spent a lot of time with the love birds my children gave me for my birthday. They are beautiful. Marianne and Colonel Brandon And scared. I made the mistake of not reading enough about them before I tried my hand at training. Now, I am having to back track just to get them to like me. I knew better. Should have done my research.

It all starts with trust. Every day I put my hand inside the cage, hold it there, and just talk. I talk about the weather — it’s been quite tragic in north TX lately. I talk about the book their names come from — Sense and Sensibility. (My daughter dubbed them Marianne and Colonel Brandon.) I talk about how we will be the best of friends if they will just trust me.

Colonel Brandon bit my finger and held on so hard I stamped my feet for five full seconds hoping he would let go.

I’ve even tried speaking my limited Spanish. (The birds came from a Mexican vendor at an outdoor market.)

“Hola, buenos dias.”

Sitting on the floor near the cage is my school bag. In it is my conferring notebook. It holds a roster with check marks for books read and pages for each student where I record our conversations about books and reading.

This morning I was finally able to get Marianne to step up on to a perch and gently pull her from the cage. She sat on the top, eating happily on a millet twig. Progress.

I flipped through the notebook, remembering conversations I’ve had with students this fall.

“I used to love to read,” Henry told me, but then I didn’t like textbooks so I didn’t read anything again until 8th grade.

“What do you mean textbooks, you mean like an anthology of stories and poems and such?”

“Yes, those,” he said, “I hated those, so I just didn’t read anything in middle school. Then my teacher in 8th grade let us choose the books we wanted, and I read a ton. Hunger Games, Divergent, all those dystopian books. Then in 9th and 10th it was back to textbooks. I stopped reading.”

Henry was a hard sell at first. I’d already set up the routines in my reader’s workshop classroom. He missed the read arounds, the notebook set up, the initial book talks with the titles I know students love every year. And just like with my birds, I started wrong with Henry.

I expected him to step up without question into our reading world. He didn’t.

I had to back track and build some trust. I’d do a book talk and then set the book not far from him. I’d talk to other students about their reading near enough so Henry could hear. I’d ask Henry questions and I’d listen to his answers, so he would know I cared about him as a person more than as a reader.

And Henry started reading.

Henry has read four books since September when he joined my class:  Article 5, Friday Night Lights, Peace Like a River, and Labron James’ Dream Team.  Not bad for a young man who went two years without reading anything in 9th and 10th grade.

For any teacher who says independent reading just doesn’t work for you or your students, I issue this challenge:  Backtrack and try again.

Five things you can do to guarantee your students will read:

  1. Read. The more you read books you think your students will enjoy, the more you will be able to talk about books your students will enjoy. Don’t have a clue about YA? Read anything by Matthew Quick, A.S. King, Jandy Nelson, or John Green (my personal favorites). You’ll have a good start.
  2. Share book talks daily. Talk about books you know students love. If you don’t know titles, ask your librarian for help, read book lists like this one, read lists we’ve shared in previous posts.
  3. Show book trailers. I used to post book trailers on this blog. You’ll find many post with trailers, interviews, and other ideas here.
  4. Get students talking. The more students talk to one another about their reading the better your chances of getting all students to read. One favorite activity in my classroom is speed dating with a book.
  5. Give students time. I heard it first from Penny Kittle:  “If they aren’t reading with you, they are not reading without you.” We must give students time to read during class. Too many teachers and administrators think silent reading is not a good use of instruction time. FALSE. The only way to become a reader — or to become a better reader — is to read. If we want students to develop the habits of life-long readers, we must help them develop the habits in class where we can help them 1) stay focused, 2) learn what readers do when they get stuck, 3) practice choosing books for learning and for pleasure, 4) make plans for future reading.

 

What tips can you share for anyone who’s struggling with independent reading? Please leave your suggestions in the comments. Thanks!

 

 

#FridayReads: Investments, Books, and the Need to Read

I am addicted to books. No question. I am a bibliophile.

And I am proud of it.

I have this not-so-secret hope that my students will be bibliophiles, too. I work very hard to make them so.

This year I’ve had a bit of trouble getting students to read. Okay, I’ve had a lot of trouble getting students to read. It’s been the hardest year for me in the years since I turned to a workshop and choice pedagogy.

I am at fault for not conferring enough, not talking about books enough, not introducing enough books that I know my students will love.  I’ve reflected enough on my practice to get that.

Finally, the light dawned:  Get them investing in the books, not just invested in the reading. But get students making the choices about what books I need in my classroom library.

Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with some kind grant benefactors and have some money to invest in books. (Shana is an expert at grant writing, and I’ve highlighted her post in the past. I do it again here.) It takes some time to write grant proposals, and then once awarded, it takes some time completing books orders — I should have done all this sooner in the year.

In class this week, I gave students an assignment:

  • Search and find a book about social issues you want to read with at least one other person in class. (I’m working on getting multiples of great titles in my classroom library.)
  • Find an award-winning book, or at least a book written by an award-winning author. (At NCTE Penny Kittle said something like “…the more you read of the best literature, the more you’ll recognize it.) I know this is true. Students begin to see it too when they read books that reflect rich and meaningful author’s craft.

So, today for #FridayReads I share with you the list of books my students came up with. I’m pretty sure they will be fantastic reads.

The Martian Andy Weir
Everything I Never Told You Celeste Ng
Challenger Deep Neal Shusterman
Love and Other Ways of Dying Michael Paterniti
Did You Ever Have a Familly Bill Clegg
Fate and Furies Lauren Groff
All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doer
The Goldfinch Donna Tartt
The Road of Lost Innocence Somaly Mam
Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates
Inside a Hollow Tree Kevin White
Behind the Beautiful Forevers Katherine Boo
Symphony for the City of the Dead M.T. Anderson
A Little Life Hanya Yanagilhara
Refund: Stories Karen E. Bender
Sickened: the True Story of a Lost Childhood Julie Gregory
The Invisible Girls Sarah Thebarge
Pretty Little Killers Daleen Berry
Columbine Dave Cullen
Redeployment Phil Klay
My Story Elizabeth Smart
Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland Amanda Berry
Heinemann

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