Category Archives: Classroom Library

Reframing Independent Reading: We Can Start By Not Grading It

imgres-1.jpgAll week, I’ve been thinking about Pernille Ripp’s exasperated plea, “Can we please stop grading independent reading?”  (I imagine that she initially had an exclamation point at the end of that post, like, COME ON, people, but then deleted it to be nice.)

Still, I am one of those people she is exasperated with.  Or I was while in the high school classroom, dedicatedly printing log sheets and grading reading every week for three years, using a complicated system of reading rates and conferences to give a number grade that reflected reading growth and sustained progress.

One year, I abandoned this system in the third quarter, just to see what would happen–would kids stop reading if I removed the accountability of a weekly reading grade?

Yes, yes they would–and they did.  So I re-instituted weekly grades, which, combined with a quarterly assessment, combined to 20% of my students’ total grade.  I was happy that this much of my course grade was dedicated to independent reading, but I didn’t realize that the grades I was mandating weren’t really creating independent readers at all.  (In hindsight, I should have begun the year without reading grades and created an authentic community of readers who weren’t motivated by reading logs.)

imgres.jpgAfter I read Pernille’s post, while thinking about this idea (read: beating myself up for slaughtering kids’ love of reading), I pulled out one of the most memorable texts I read while in college–Janice Pilgreen’s The SSR Handbook.  In the foreword, Stephen Krashen writes:

Free voluntary reading means reading what you want to read, with no book reports, no questions at the end of the chapter, and not having to finish the book if you don’t want to.  Sustained silent reading provides children with an opportunity to do free voluntary reading in school.  Is this a good idea?  Yes.

Pilgreen lists eight components of a successful SSR practice:

  1. Access – to many reading materials (books, newspaper, magazines, comics)
  2. Appeal – the materials are interesting and appropriate for the students
  3. Conducive Environment – the space in which students may read is comfortable and welcoming
  4. Encouragement – teachers and peers encourage students to read through discussions, modeling, and more
  5. Staff Training – teachers should have practical approaches in place for helping kids become readers
  6. Non-Accountability – no records, no monitoring, no “task-oriented” attitudes toward reading
  7. Follow-Up Activities – thoughtful, creative, interactive ways in which students discuss their reading lives authentically
  8. Distributed Time to Read – a volume of time that consistently occurs during which students read freely in school

When I think now about these eight simple factors, I see them clearly through the lens of workshop teaching.  To me, the components translated to my real-world readers workshop classroom look like this:

  • a classroom library brimming with high-interest books;
  • a reader-friendly community built not only into a welcoming physical space, but one in which daily reading, talk, conferring, and encouragement happen;
  • a teacher-leader who is the best reader in the room, who can model fluent reading and recommend a wide volume of books to students;
  • a lack of graded formative assessment and an emphasis on summative assessments for learning, not of learning.

This means no reading levels, no required number of books per year, no structured programs in place, no minimum number of minutes of reading done per week.  This means relinquishing control.  This means a lot of modeling, conferring, and progress monitoring to encourage student growth and lifelong learning.

This means thinking about independent reading as truly independent–independent of grades and of accountability.  This means reframing independent reading in school as an authentic, student-centered activity in which the readers take the lead and teachers merely help provide coaching and guidance.

If these ideologies are in place, teachers will know if kids aren’t reading (by simple observation and conferring).  We can adjust our instructional practices from there, without the damaging effects of punitive grades.  We can still give a grade for summative student self-assessments of independent reading growth (student-led is the key, here) to satisfy those mandatory gradebook updates, but if students are to become real readers we, as teachers, cannot be the ones holding them accountable for their progress.

There are many other kinds of reading that happen in language arts classrooms in addition to independent reading:  whole-class study of texts; small-group book clubs; close reading studies of poetry, articles, essays; explorations of mentor texts; analyses and syntheses of plays and novels and writing of all sorts.  This is where the work of learning to become a better reader can come in (which can be very enjoyable!), which lends itself to skills-based reading assessments.

In contrast, independent reading and all its many joys and struggles and spaces for success and failure are not, as Pernille says, “gradeable skills but instead a child practicing habits to figure out how to get better at reading.”  If we want to nurture this practice, we cannot keep grading it–and that’s the first step to reframing our thinking about independent reading.

Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia and teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or join her for the Slice of Life Writing Challenge here.

 

Advertisements

Letting Go in the Name of Book Love

letting go

I am a super fan of Pro/Con lists, although the true reflection of these lists never seem to govern my life as much as the making of them does.  Let me explain.

I can always think of a million reasons not to do something, but if I’ve already decided I want to do it, the Pros generally outweigh the Cons because of just that–weight.  Sometimes the reasons TO do something are fewer, but are so weighty that they can’t be ignored.

Workshop was that for me.

pro con

This is a real picture of my real notebook.  Please don’t judge the fact that I give myself pep talks within my P/C Lists.

 

Here are a few Cons of workshop from my list at the beginning of this year:

  • I’ll be on my own, pretty much.
  • I’m young, and everyone will think I’m just trying to rock the boat.
  • WHERE WILL I GET THE BOOKS?!!
  • Once I get those books, likely via my own dwindling bank account, how will I keep track of the books?  I already go broke on borrowed pencils–and those cost…well… can anyone break a penny?
  • What if I haven’t read enough to recommend enough?

Sure, all of these were true then, and are still true now.  However, I think the weight of the Pros on this list were hard to ignore:

  • I could truly build something that would become a lifelong skill that carries students through the rest of their lives as learners.
  • Great readers have the potential to be great writers.  You can’t do what you’ve never seen (at least not well).
  • Reading in builds empathy.  Reading far and wide builds empathy far and wide.

To be honest, the biggest fear on that list of Cons was the idea of losing books.  We teachers, just as Lisa pointed out yesterday, are notorious for going broke for the cause.

I started workshop anyway.  As soon as I met 3rd Period this year, Terri-Rose quickly became the actualization of my worst nightmare.  On the first day when we checked out books, she insisted on taking three home to peruse because she couldn’t make a decision.  My first endeavor into workshop, I wasn’t quite sure if that was a thing.  I gritted my teeth and slowly expelled a perfectionistic breath, attempting to inhale a free spirit (something which usually doesn’t hover near me much less inhabit my own body).  She held three of my shiny new bestsellers bought with my own money after the small grant I obtained already ran out.  I told her she could do that as long as she signed them out and brought two of them back to me the next time.  I glanced over my shoulder to my then-meager amount of books after the first checkout.  Who knew 300 books could go so quickly?  I might never see them again.  

But, you know what, I did.  Most of them.  Terri-Rose still hasn’t learned to make a decision.  Whenever she finishes one book, she takes two more.  She’ll get halfway through one, and then give it back to me.

I’ll ask, “You didn’t like this one?”

She’ll say, “I do, but I want someone else to be able to read it while I finish this other one.” We developed a system with her book marks.  She likes to use candy wrappers (always pristine) to mark her place, so she’ll hand me the candy wrapper, and I’ll put a sticky note on it with the book title and page number to hand back to her when she’s ready for that book again.  It’s a nice system.

The other day, she came into class raving about a book.  It’s a normal occurrence.  She’s never quiet about something she loves–a quality I’m hoping to channel more in the future.  She wanted to barrel her way through Everything, Everything because the movie is slated to release in May.

Then came the request.

“Mrs. Paxson, I have this pen pal in Weatherford and we’ve started talking about books.  I told her about Everything, Everything, and the movie coming out and now she really wants to read it.  Would it be okay if I mailed it to her to read and then she mails it back before school is over?  I can even ask her to write a review for it before she sends it back!”

The exhale and inhale was quicker this time, mostly because I was leaping for joy inside at the desire to share the Book Love.  I agreed to the terms of her proposal, and I can’t wait to get the book back with a long distance review.

All of those Cons, like I said before, still stand true.  I’ve lost some books this year–probably five or six.  But the weight of the Pros have grown heavier with success and small triumphs–more than I ever thought they might.

As I think of Terri-Rose, unable to make a decision, reading books halfway through and two at a time, always sharing with friends before she’s even close to done, I’m reminded of my own reading life.  It’s a real one, not one for a grade or to check a box.

Then I think: Holy crap–it works.

What moments have surprised you with sharing #BookLove and watching it grow?

Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX.  She frequently feels as though someone made a mistake in allowing her to hold the futures of over 100 teenagers in her jittery, over-caffeinated hands for the past two years.  If you enjoy watching her make a fool of herself by being unbearably vulnerable, you can catch more of that over at www.jessicajordana.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.

 

Going Broke Buying Books

Disclaimer: There are countless ways to save money when securing books for your classroom library. I, however, often lack the patience for such measured and responsible procurement of texts. This is my story (and possibly my defense should my husband discover just how much I spend on books).


My husband Nick is a dear man. He has to be, to put up with the amount of time, energy, and hard earned cash I devote to this passion called teaching.

In the 14 years I’ve been at this, or rather the 2 years I’ve been building a genuine classroom library, I have probably spent $4, 398,291 (hyperbolic numbers are my favorite, because I’ve never been good at math).

It often happens before I know what I’m doing. Like those poor souls who sleepwalk and end up in the middle of a busy road in their pajamas, I find myself “just putting a book in my Amazon cart so I remember the title,” or “checking Thriftbooks for a minute (or 27), to see what’s new.”

Hi. My name is Lisa, and I buy a lot of books for other people’s children. 

doryThis “problem” sort of took me by surprise. With my head hanging low, I must admit there was a time, not too long ago, when there were very few books in my classroom. There were very few books in my life period, besides the ones I “taught” year after
year. My classroom was rich in many valuable thoughts, inquires, and experiences before workshop, but it was not full of books.

How, as a teacher of literacy, had I allowed my classroom to become devoid of the very tools of reading I kept suggesting to my students would be their salvation in the face of collegiate ambitions, thematic exploration, and aspirations of world domination?

Apparently, it wasn’t important to me.

Ugh. That reflection looks ugly in print.

I didn’t purposefully create a text desert in my classroom, of course. If someone had said, “Hey, Dennis. You teach English. Where are all the books?” I would have smiled and pointed to the textbooks and countless copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Students bought any books they needed for independent reading, and I happily progressed with assigning reading, providing study guides, giving content quizzes, lather, rinse, repeat. This is what I knew. This is what I had experienced myself. This is how I was taught to teach.

But then, one day, a big rock fell on my head. I dreamt of rows upon rows of book ryan goslingshelves lining the walls of my classroom and students clutching copies of countless titles to their bosoms. Ryan Gosling walked into the room and said, “Hey girl. I really love the work you’re doing for public education. Let’s get those kids reading more. Cool?” When I came to, I was blushing, but more importantly, I knew that my students needed more choice. More challenge. More access to books.

Ok. Not really. But the conclusions I came to after some workshop research, training by the lovely workshop team of Three Teachers Talk, and logical reflection about how I wanted my students to view reading, that part is true.

There is still a very important place for whole class novel work in my classroom. There is still a place for short lists of books with a central theme to get kids working in book clubs. There is still a place for the classic and contemporary. But there is also now a place for a lot more choice right in my classroom, always located just a few steps away.

And though we might not want to believe that we have to hold our kids’ hands and walk them to our bookshelves, instead of trusting them to take their own time to go to the library or while away the hours at the local bookshop, at least in the beginning, we do. We need to make the books so wildly available, that kids can’t help but wade through them in the course of our time together.

Think of elementary classrooms. Books upon books, upon teachers reading aloud books. If books aren’t at home, they are certainly at school, and when kids are learning to read, they are showered with books. Why not shower them with texts when we are trying to reignite that love of reading?

Given time to read, talk about books, formative and summative work around independent novel study, goal setting, book challenges, quick writes on choice reading, daily book talks, a teacher who pours passion about books all over their every class period AND shelves of books three feet away, progress in building and rebuilding readers is very possible, and even, probable.

We can teach children to read, but for reading to become a habit, they need ready access to books. We also know, they need choice, choice, and more choice (thank you a million times for your brilliance, Donalyn Miller).

When it comes down to it, we might not want to believe our students evade the reading we ask them to do, but they often do. Many fake read very, very well. Others simply smile, or avert their gaze, or defiantly say, “I didn’t do it” or “I’m just super busy.”

I’ll put it this way, my dentist hands me floss, but I don’t use it as often as I should. There. I said it. I am a college educated, do-gooder, who knows she should floss…every day. I do not floss every day. I know my teeth will suffer for it. I know when I go to the dentist I feel bad for having to say that I could probably floss more. I know it’s with the best intentions for my own self interest that the professional tells me to do it, but…I don’t do it. I’m just super busy.

Perhaps a bad analogy, but our students don’t always make the right choices when it comes to reading. They prioritize other things. If my dentist were handing me floss every day, chances are good, I’d get in the habit. Should he have to? No. Should I just do it on my own because I know it’s good for me, of course. But, I’m flawed. We all are.

So, at least for awhile, I’m going to care enough about my students teeth, er, reading habits to make it highly visible, readily accessible, and as entertaining as I can.

The payoff just this week is real:

  • Josh is a super smart kid who hadn’t been devoting time to reading. He, like so many others, used to love to read, but had fallen out of the habit. With our 10-15 minutes of reading a day, and my suggestion that he add just 10 minutes before falling asleep each night, Josh is back into books. Major texts, in fact, and just book talked The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss to our a class. A little bit here and a little bit there, made the reading a habit again. I bought the book and handed it to one of his peers who flew through it too.
  • I saw Brianna standing at the bookshelf yesterday morning. Sort of swaying back and forth. I skipped over (ok, I was skipping in my head, but I was excited to help her find something magical).
    “What are you in the market for, my dear.”
    “Uh…I’m not sure. I just read Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain. It was really good, but I might be over nonfiction for awhile.”
    “Makes sense. How about a really good story? Try this. Oooo! And this…and I had someone read this one last month. And…this (The Help). Have you read this one yet? Take a look at the reviews in the front from past readers. This is a great book.”
    Brianna was 20 pages into The Help and picked up the book between activities in class that day.
  • The somewhat shocked and surprised smile on JJ’s face when, after book talking Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things: A Novel last week, I put in his hands a copy of her incredible new release Small Great Things. He had asked for my copy a few days later when he finished his latest read, but it had already been checked out. He looked crestfallen. When I saw it yesterday on the new release cart in the library, I checked it out, and hunted JJ down during our resource period. “Wow. Thank you!
  • And this…You might remember Nathan from a few weeks back after he finished A Dog’s Purpose:
    img_0266
    I was at Barnes and Noble and used one of my gift cards to buy the sequel A Dog’s JourneyI think this smile is worth the expense:

Truth be told, I’m very lucky to work in a district that has put a huge amount of money into funding the classroom libraries of our English department as we’ve moved to workshop. And there are countless ways to put on your thrifty teacher cap and get the texts rolling into your room, if your district isn’t yet on board with choice reading:

  • Write letters to your local bookstores and appeal to their sense of community pride, favorable Yelp reviews, and goodwill to all.
  • Loiter in bookstores and flash your teacher credentials. Sometimes a pleading jessicasmile and/or a small purchase will secure some free or discounted books.
  •  Apply for grants (Nothing says #booklove like free books…next year).
  • Rummage, thrift, estate sale your way through the summer.
  • Gather some research on classroom libraries and get it in the hands of your administrators. You might be surprised.
  • Ask Shana for books. She loves to give away books to fellow workshop teachers.
  • Befriend authors via social media! Jessica is trying her hand at scoring some Matthew Quick books through Shana’s connection. No shame, Jessica! Twirt (twitter flirt, I believe) away!

You don’t necessarily have to spend your own money on books, but I do. Something inside of me saying that I need more. I need more variety. I need more to recommend. I need more books.

I keep telling my husband that I’m helping to inform, inspire, and impassion the electorate. I’m also in charge of the money, so my little addiction should be able to continue a little while longer. I consider you all my support group in this matter. Thank you for your support.

How do you surround your students with books? What titles have you added recently that keep flying off your shelves? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 

FTC guideline affiliate links

Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of friends at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Her latest classroom library purchases were The Hate U Giveby Angie Thomas, American Street by Ibi Zoboi,  and Violent Endsthe story of a school shooting told from various perspectives and written by 17 YA Lit. authors.  Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum. 

Finding New Books: A Lesson from Rachel the Book Bandit

I have a lot of awesome students this year.

A LOT.

img_6200One of my preservice teachers is the hilarious Rachel, who, when she stopped by Allen Hall to turn in her writer’s notebook for the semester, was carrying a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s excellent book Americanah.

“Ooooh,” I said.  “That’s a great book.”

“It is, so far,” Rachel agreed.  “I’m only about 40 pages in.”

“Is it for one of your classes?” I asked.

Rachel laughed a little and said no.  “It’s on the African American Literature syllabus, though.”

Well, that was exciting to me for two reasons.  One was that the African American literature class was going beyond Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston into the realms of contemporary.  And the other was that clearly, Rachel had been talking to others about books.

I love me some contagious book love!

“Do you have a friend taking the class?” I inquired.

imagesRachel looked sheepish.  “Well, you see,” she explained, “at the beginning of the semester I always go around to all the different English classes and just stay for the first class so I can get a copy of their syllabus.  Then I put all the titles in my Amazon cart and my mom sends me a few books every month!!”

She was gleeful, and I was giddy.  Rachel was…a book bandit!

“Wow,” I said, impressed.  “So you discover all kinds of new titles this way.”

“Yeah,” she agreed.  “I don’t have time to take every single English elective offered, but I need to know a lot of titles if I’m going to be a good English teacher.  So I do this instead.”

I was so impressed that Rachel had discovered, and independently read, award-winning literature this way.

And, I was even more impressed that Rachel knew that to be a successful teacher of readers, you have to know lots of titles so you can match the right kid to the right book at the right time.

Now that winter break is approaching, I’m looking for some new books to read.  So I took a cue from Rachel and discovered the following amazing titles on the syllabi (found through the online university bookstore) for various English courses at our university.

Popular American Culture, ENGL 258:

  1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  2. Fledgling by Octavia Butler
  3. I am Legend by Richard Matheson
  4. The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone By by Robert Kirkman

Sexual Diversity in Literature, ENGL 288:

  1. Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
  2. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Allison Bechdel

Fiction for Adolescents, ENGL 405:  (this one was a gold mine!!)

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  2. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  4. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander [I bought this, read it one sitting, and cried in public while finishing it]
  5. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  6. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  7. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
  8. Free Verse by Sarah Dooley [I bought this one ASAP; it’s set in a West Virginia coal mining town]
  9. We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Multiethnic American Literature, ENGL 255:

  1. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  2. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  3. Everything I Never Told You by Cynthia Ng
  4. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  5. Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet

Thanks to Rachel for inspiring me with a way to find all of these great new titles!  I hope you’ll find some great new titles this way, too.  Please share them with us in the comments so we can all enjoy!

Thanks for the Great Read #FridayReads

I think it was a “thank you,” of sorts.

My associate principal, the ever-smiling, ever-supportive, Anita Sundstrom, had asked at the end of last school year to borrow some books to read over the summer.

I sent her home with Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale (and I swear to the heavens and Nicholas Nickleby that Ms. Hannah isn’t paying me to write about her book. Though I may have mentioned how it made me weepy here, and how I broke the law to read it here,  and how the lovely Erin Doucette – who is so very lovely that she helped me with the title of this post at 7:31 a.m.- and I book talked it for the whole school here).

Only a few days later, I received a text from Anita. Something about reading until two in the morning and then not being able to fall asleep for fear of Nazis.

As I said…I think it was a thank you.

She couldn’t put the book down and immediately wanted another recommendation.

Translation: A book captured a reader and fueled a desire to keep reading.
Further Translation: The deepest desire of each and every English teacher fulfilled.

However, it wasn’t until I went to book talk The Nightingale for my current students a few weeks back, that I noticed the Post-it stuck to the inside cover of the book: “Thanks for the great read. – Anita” 

It made me smile. And want to pass on the book love.

So, when I did the book talk, I shared the brief reading story above and showed that Post-it to my students. I joked that Mrs. Sundstrom’s note added street cred to the book. After all, she’s a former science teacher.

Translation: The book has a wider appeal than just a tearful (though sincerely passionate) English teacher.
Further Translation: I now had an idea to help “sell” more books.

Next to the book return bin in my classroom, I placed a stack of Post-its and a few pens. I introduced the idea that we could all help each other better understand the books in our library and their appeal by leaving each other notes in the text. 

These quick little reviews could reach out to readers in search of a book. Those souls searching for a little connection to the readers that have gone before them. Swaying back and forth in front of the bookshelves. Staring. Now, they would have the recommendation of fellow readers right there in the book. The book that would already be in their hands.

Sometimes those Post-it notes can recommend a book I’ve not yet book talked. Sometimes those notes can recommend a book before I can get over to the shelves and help a student select a text. Sometimes those notes lend cred to book when a cover/title/description doesn’t do it justice.

img_6682img_6680

img_6683

So…
Read a book.
Love it.
Leave your name and your thoughts on a sticky note.img_6677

Simple, right?

Helpful too.

Now I tease kids that their old school Post-it note reviews might find their way to Mrs. Sundstrom’s office, which is better than finding themselves in Mrs. Sundstrom’s office.

My hope is that the inside covers of my books end up looking like our writer’s notebooks: colorful, messy, informative, creative, and full of inspirational, deep thoughts.

So, thank a peer, thank a friend, thank a reader, thank a book. #FridayReads and then pass it on.

How do you capture students’ thoughts on books they love? Please share your ideas in the comments below! 

Try It Tuesday: Book Pass

While writing about ways to hook readers a few weeks ago, I realized that while we’ve mentioned book passes several times on this blog, we’ve never actually written a post dedicated to how to do them.  So, here that post is!

Book passes are beautiful in their simplicity. Their purpose is to expose potential readers to a wide variety of books in just a few minutes. All you need are a number of books greater than or equal to your students, their writer’s notebooks, and the power of social capital.

img_5005

Victoria browses through Peter Johnston’s Choice Words, while Brianna tries to decide between a few choices herself.

When students enter the classroom the day of the book pass, I always have piles of books ready to go on their table groupings. They can’t help but pick them up right away (really, they can’t–sometimes it drives me nuts when they paw through materials we’re not ready to get to, but in this case, I LOVE watching them be drawn to a book), so the book’s contagion begins to spread immediately.

When we begin, I ask students to turn to their TBR pages in their notebooks. “Go ahead and grab a book that’s on the desk in front of you,” I invite, and wham, books are in the hands of readers. “Spend about one minute with this book–look at the front cover, the back cover, the inside flaps, the first page. Decide if you think it might be a good fit for you.” With my preservice teachers of all content areas, I ask them how they might use this book, or excerpts from it, in their future teaching.

img_5011

Habbiba gets excited about Will in the World, and nerds out with Alexis.

I set my timer on my phone for 60 seconds as kids flip through pages. Of course, book love is contagious, so some kids share with others what they find–the power of social capital is at work once again here.

When the timer dings, I ask kids to pass their book to the left. “But first,” I remind them, “write down that title on your TBR list if you think it’s something you might want to read.”

Now the students have new books in their hands, made more powerful if they’ve already watched their neighbor write that title down. I love to watch, after multiple passes, when one title gets written down by nearly everyone, and the students who’ve yet to get that book in their hands begin to practically salivate.

img_5010-1

Nick and Ryan thumb through The Double Helix and Moneyball, respectively

The book pass can go on for as many passes as you have time for–enough for every kid to see every title, or just five minutes’ worth, if you prefer. I do this activity multiple times at the beginning of the year, and then again sprinkled throughout the year when I get lots of new books in. It’s a wonderful way to expose students to several titles in a day as an alternative to the traditional booktalk. It’s also a great way to shake up the typical routine in the classroom with a hands-on activity that gets kids excited about books.

I often conduct book passes in this open-ended way–“see if this book is a good fit for you”–but sometimes I do them as a way to expose students to a “new” genre in particular (novels in verse, or graphic novels); a way to introduce the theme of a unit (by finding books all about that theme); or to introduce a reading challenge (read an award winner, or a book of nonfiction). Just passing books around and getting them in the hands of readers does wonders to grow students’ universes of what’s possible when we read.

How might you use a book pass in your classroom? Please share in the comments!

Mini-Lesson Monday: First and Last Lines

In the spirit of all the books we’re giving away (winners announced tonight!), today’s mini-lesson is one of my favorites to do with independent reading books.  It celebrates the beauty and power of language, no matter the text–poetry, nonfiction, YA, award-winners, graphic novels, and more.  It also celebrates the pure joy of discovery; the launch into a new world attained only by opening to the first page of a new book.

Objectives:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will identify patterns in opening and closing lines of texts, synthesize their noticings, and draw conclusions about a text’s craft and structure.

primcacyLesson:  “Have y’all learned about the concepts of primacy and recency in psychology yet?  Who can refresh us?”

A student reminds us that the concept says that the first and last items in a series are easier and more likely to be committed to memory.

“Well, this concept isn’t just for psychology.  It applies to books too.  The first and last lines of books are the most powerful, and the most likely to stick with us.  Let’s talk in our table groups about why the first and last lines are so powerful.”

I wander the room for three minutes as students discuss, in groups of 3-4, these concepts.  They conclude that the first line often sets the tone, introduces a new world, or hooks the reader with some mystique.  The last line, they say, helps keep the reader wondering, or solves a lingering mystery, or even makes you cry.

I write these conclusions on the board, or elicit them from groups if necessary, so that we’re all on the same page.

“Okay, let’s take a look at some of our current reads and see how they can grab our attention.  Open up your independent reading book and read the first line again, and then read the very last line, too.”  (There’s always some anxiety about this, but I reassure them that last lines rarely contain plot giveaways.)

618698KrJJL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_

(OMG, have you read this? It exploded in popularity the last few weeks of this school year. Read it!)

I ask a few students to give me examples:

  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children begins with “I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen,” and ends with, “We rowed faster.”  
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany opens with “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meaney,” and ends with, “I shall keep asking you.”
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August begins with “The second cataclysm began in my eleventh life, in 1996,” and concludes, “Instead, for those few days you have left, you are mortal at last.”
  • Room opens with “Today I’m five,” and ends with “Then we go out the door.”

I ask students to write for a few minutes about all that they can learn from the first and last lines, based on what they already know of the text from reading.  This is key–the lesson is much different than a simple craft study of a text they’re not already invested in, because they’re bringing lots more prior knowledge to their text analysis.

7937843I quickly model with Room, whose plot is simply explained and well known from a recent booktalk.  “I notice the sentence structure first–both lines are short, simple sentences.  Then I get a sense of the narrator’s voice, as he is obviously five years old, and that shapes how I’m going to view the text.  I also know that while they start out trapped in Room, they manage to escape somehow, either literally or figuratively, because of the last line.  I’m intrigued by all of these things, and it sets me up for what sounds like a pretty good read.”  As I talk, I note on the board the kinds of things I’m noticing–craft, tone, characterization, theme, plot, sentence structure.

Students write for five minutes about these topics.  Because they’re midway through these books, they have more knowledge of the text than just the first and last lines.  After a few minutes of writing about what they’ve noticed, I ask, “Now, how does revisiting the first line, and looking ahead to the last line, shape your reading of the text?  What do you find yourself thinking about?  What do you predict might happen?”

Follow-Up:  After students have written their reflections, I ask that they pass notebooks.  They’ll read all of their table mates’ entries, providing 2-3 mini-booktalks–a variation on speed dating.

This lesson could also be a great companion to Jackie’s mini-lesson on writing leads.

This lesson also acts as one of a series of lessons leading up to the students’ writing of a craft analysis of their independent reading books.

Heinemann

Mentors with Insights, Ideas, and Resources for Secondary Readers & Writers Workshop

Literacy & NCTE

The official blog of the National Council of Teachers of English

kelly's blog - Kelly Gallagher

Mentors with Insights, Ideas, and Resources for Secondary Readers & Writers Workshop

Moving Writers

Move the writing. Move the writer.

Blog | The Educator Collaborative Community

Voices of Educators Making a Difference

The Paper Graders

Teachers thinking about teaching, education, technology and anything else that bugs us.

Ethical ELA

conversations on the ethics of teaching English

%d bloggers like this: