Category Archives: Books

My Classroom Library Shelves went from Empty to Full . . . and Yours Can, Too!

My family took a big plunge five years ago, and made the decision to move from our placid, beautiful Central Oregon to Amman, Jordan. So much about Jordan was wonderful, but part of our decision to move away from our home, from Oregon, was about traveling the world. So after four years in Amman, we decided to move away from Jordan, to Managua, Nicaragua.

Between making the decision in January to move to Nicaragua and actually arriving this July, Nicaragua’s travel advisory from the US State Department went from level 2 to level 3 because of civil unrest, crime, and limited healthcare availability. Of course that travel advisory rating, combined with what we were reading in the news and hearing from people who lived in Managua gave us pause, and we carefully considered the choice we were making. Ultimately, we decided to move to Managua, and we are happy with our choice.

I share this background because I want to point out that while private schools often don’t share exactly the same issues and concerns found in public schools, private schools are not always utopian. Our school is wonderful, students are eager, teachers are welcoming and caring, and our facilities are beautiful. But with the current situation in Nicaragua, some families have chosen to leave the country, which ultimately means revenue from student fees is down, and the budget reflects that situation.

Everywhere I have ever taught has had budget concerns, public or private. I’m sure all teachers can relate to budget issues, which is why I bring it up.

Even in a time of budget concerns, my classroom library grew from empty shelves to full shelves in a matter of weeks, and it didn’t cost me an extra dime.

I walked into a nice, big, but empty classroom. The bookshelves were beautiful, but bare.

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Within a day or two of being in my new space, at my new job, in my new city of residence, I was having conversations with administrators and coworkers about how to build classroom libraries.

Our first step was to visit the book room. I think most schools have a book room, and in my experience they are full of books that are rarely in the hands of students for any length of time. We decided to gather a copy of each book for each of our five classrooms, and if a teacher needed one of those copies for teaching a whole-class-novel, we would give it to that teacher to use during that particular unit.

There were also books in the book room that were not being taught as whole-class-texts, and that weren’t available in high enough numbers to be used in that way. They might be titles that could be used in future book clubs, but we decided that getting these books in the hands of students sooner rather than later was the right choice, so they were distributed as well.

My classroom library was greatly improved by visiting the book room and reimagining the uses for all of the wonderful reads that could be found there.

I found some small white boards in the closet in my classroom and repurposed them as book displays so that I could highlight titles that might be especially interesting to my students. I think the same thing could be done using repurposed cardboard and printer paper, so I want to encourage others to use what’s available in order to highlight high-interest books. There are many other ways to focus attention on desirable titles, but sometimes simple is easiest.

After raiding the book room, it was time for step two. We checked in with the main library at our school. The shelves in our library were packed tight, full of great titles, and because shelves were so full, we had the ability to pull books out of the library and redistribute them to our classroom libraries.

Our librarian has spent the last several days pulling titles from the shelves and delivering them to our classrooms. Every other day or so, a basket of books arrives, and we never know what we are going to get. What we do know is that we will have more and more books as this process progresses. There will be additional books in our classroom libraries and more room on our school library shelves. Reallocation of resources is working in a very positive way in our school.

Once I received the books from the book room and the library, I implemented step three. I organized the books. I don’t think it matters how the books are organized, just that they are organized.

I categorized my books into the following sections, and used markers and printer paper to make my labels:

  • award winners
  • historical fiction
  • classics
  • mystery
  • fantasy and sci-fi
  • contemporary fiction
  • nonfiction
  • romance and other fun reads
  • “orphan” series books (books that are #2 or later in a series when the others aren’t there)
  • short stories and essays
  • poetry and verse

As you can see, I didn’t spend a dime on any books. I didn’t ask anyone else to spend any money, either. I used what was already in my school and simply helped to redistribute resources.

In some schools or districts, asking students to bring in books, applying for grants, and asking the parent-teacher groups to support classroom libraries will be great options. However, I wanted to share that sometimes, maybe often, classroom libraries can be built with what we already have.

What do you do to help build your classroom library? I’d love to see your ideas in the comments below.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

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Assigned Reading Works as well as Assigned Flossing

Every few months, I notice a meme recirculate with some variation of “Judging teachers on their students’ test scores makes as much sense as judging farmers on their crops without accounting for drought, freezes, or disease.” Still reflecting on my students’ lackluster AP scores as I sat down in the dentist’s chair this morning, I considered this meme. Then, like most teachers I know, I still wracked my brain trying to figure out what I could do differently to help my students score higher on that exam. As I mused, and chastised myself for taking their scores harder than I should, I endeavored to distract myself a bit by trying to remember the other meme out there that connected the professions of dentistry and teaching based on clients’ results. Ultimately, I looked it up when I got home, and it reads: “We don’t blame dentists when we don’t brush properly and we get a cavity. So why do we blame teachers when kids don’t pass because they don’t study?” Or read enough prior to twelfth grade, I thought.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.57.38 PMMy cleaning ensued – painfully, I might add, as my technician was unnecessarily rough, and I wanted to ask her if she remembered that a person was attached to those teeth, but I found it too difficult to ask such questions with someone’s hands in my mouth. I waited for the post-cleaning check-up with the dentist, knowing the only question I had for him was about the dark staining I’ve been experiencing lately despite my careful brushing and (sometimes) flossing regimen.

During the 3 minutes he spent with me (I see why he earns the big bucks compared to me, I thought cynically) he responded to my question with one of his own.

“Do you drink a lot of tea?”

“Well, I guess so. I gave up soft drinks a couple of years ago, and tea became my go-to beverage.”

“Well then, that’s why your teeth are stained. You should expect that if you drink tea. It’s the worst thing you can do to stain your teeth. It’s worse than drinking coffee for stains.”

I didn’t hear the rest of what he said because it devolved into chastisement. I didn’t Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.55.01 PMexpect him to congratulate me on the steps I’d taken for my overall health in giving up on sodas, and I didn’t expect him to have sympathy for how hard that habit must have been to break, and I didn’t even expect him to think logically about how much less acid was wearing away at my enamel now that I don’t drink soft drinks, but I also didn’t expect to feel as though I had done something so very wrong.

That’s when my English teacher brain went back to thinking about what we do (or fail to do) for our students. I thought about how many students have been made to feel “less than” when they want to read a YA book instead of a classic text. Just as my dentist was so set on his vision of how I should live solely focused on the effects on my teeth that he forgot about the person attached to them, how many well-meaning English teachers are so hyper-focused on their well-chosen texts that they forget about their students’ needs? How many forget or do not understand what can be gained with YA or self-selected books?

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.58.46 PMMy teeth will continue to stain, I guess. I’ll brush with baking soda once a week to combat that. But I’ve gained better health and energy. I’ve lost the migraines I used to get when I drank colas all the time. And if we allow our students to read what they want and need to read, they might lose content knowledge of some of the classics that we read (or fake-read) in high school, but they will gain an authentic love of reading. They will find connections with characters in their books. They will connect with each other as they enthusiastically discuss their books. They will feel empowered and in control of their lives as readers. Their reading levels will improve. And yes, the test scores will follow.

Prescribing all the texts our students read, even when doing so comes from a place of good intentions, works as well as prescribing flossing. Everyone does that at least twice a day, right?

Amber Counts teaches AP English Literature & Composition and Academic Decathlon at Lewisville High School. She believes in the power of choice and promotes thinking at every opportunity. She is married to her high school sweetheart and knows love is what makes the world go around. Someday she will write her story. Follow Amber @mrscounts.

Let’s Talk Summer Reading–Without the Pressure

Summer is one of my favorite times of year for reading. I love lying out in the sun with a light paperback, curling up in the corner of the couch with a classic, or falling asleep with my e-reader in my hand under a whirring fan.

Summer reading should be fun for everyone, but especially for teachers and students.

Instead, it’s become such a controversial topic–a buzzword laden with hidden meanings and tensions and polarizing sides. Much of the discourse around reading, and education in general, feels exhausting to me lately. Banned books, mandated books, and everything in between can spark vitriol in teachers who profess to love our students, profession, work.

summer-reading_xs.jpgBut, as ever, reading is the great escape.

And we need that escape–I feel like I never get a break from teaching, and when I do, I don’t know how to seize it. But one thing I love doing in the summertime is reading a book without looking for craft mini-lessons, or thinking about a booktalk I’ll give, or which kid I’ll recommend that title to. That kind of reading can wait until August.

So let’s talk about summer reading, without the pressure. I don’t want to argue with anyone about whether students should be assigned books, or required to participate in book clubs, or the danger of the summer slide or the 20 minutes of reading per day.

I just want to talk books.

Here are some genres and titles I’ve loved so far this summer, and I would love desperately need your recommendations. Please leave them in the comments!

download-1.jpgMurder-Mystery

Still Life is the first in the Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny, and I’ll forever remember reading it in beautiful Canaan Valley, WV during an anniversary getaway. This beautifully written murder-mystery is set in a small town in Canada, and our hero, Gamache, is a quiet observer of human nature, which helps him solve mysteries. I adore the way Penny crafts his thoughts about what he sees, and how many lovely backstories are woven through each mystery in this series.

Page-Turners

download.jpgThe Word Exchange was completely, compulsively, un-put-down-able. Alena Graedon is a new author for me, and her tale of a world that loses its grip on language once a massive tech company monopolizes and commoditizes words was, for me, perfectly timed–I’ve been a little unsettled lately by my observations about how addicted to technology everyone is, and how afraid I am of what it’s doing to my students, and could potentially do to my children. This book spurred me to action in terms of deactivating my Facebook and Instagram accounts and making a conscious effort to leave my phone in another room–to make space to just be, and be bored, and have time to think and wonder and ponder.

download-2.jpgThe Power by Naomi Alderman was just wonderful. It had all the elements of a gripping adventure story, along with a powerful message about what corrupts us. In this novel, women develop an electrostatic power and a society shifts from patriarchal to matriarchal in the space of a few generations as a result. The effect of women suddenly becoming more physically powerful than men leads to widespread revolution in everything from interpersonal relationships to world leadership. It’s beautifully written, too.

download-3.jpgDear Martin was a book I’d been recommended a thousand times, it seemed, but after reading so many books that felt similar–The Hate U Give, Long Way Down, etc., I just couldn’t pick it up–but I’m so glad I finally did. Nic Stone crafts this novel as a series of letters from young Justyce McAllister to Martin Luther King, interspersed with transcripts of news reports and first-person narrative. It’s complex and thoughtful and plausible and readable and powerful. I loved it.

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Nonfiction

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing is Daniel Pink’s latest offering, and as usual, he has an insightful book that has applications for me as an individual, a parent, and a teacher. Pink discusses all the elements of timing that govern our lives, from being a “morning person” to a “night owl,” to the power and importance of building in breaks, taking naps, and seeking out social and alone time. He frames this all in the usual compelling narrative style that makes his writing so readable and interesting to me.

download-4.jpgTeaching Books

180 Days is proving difficult for me to get into. I’ve had it on my desk for over a month, but every time I pick up this collaboration between Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, I feel like I’m having an emotional battle. My former classroom teacher self wars with my preservice teacher professor self wars with my currently nonteaching summer self when I read about the decisions that go into planning for a packed, skill-building, book-loving, writing-doing, meaningful, 180-day school year. I think it just contributes to that overall feeling of exhaustion I have, so maybe I just need to pick it up when I’m a little more rested.


What are you reading this summer? What books and places help you take a break from teaching? Please share in the comments or on Twitter via @3teacherstalk.

Shana Karnes is enjoying summer reading in West Virginia with her two daughters. She spends lots of time at the public library, the university rec center, and Target–because books, running, and iced coffee while shopping are joyful things. Shana works with practicing teachers through the National Writing Project and formerly taught preservice educators and high school students. Let’s talk reading on Twitter–I’m @litreader for a reason!

3 Ways to “Wrap Up” Your School Year

I am an unabashed gift giver.

I love tangible ways to express my appreciation for friends, students, family, colleagues, and anyone else I count as important.

…I also love shopping.

But with an impending move to Wisconsin on the horizon, I don’t love clutter in my home–so I am gifting left and right. That was part of the inspiration this year for how I wanted to finish the semester with my students–students I’ve been with for multiple years, in some cases, and others who I’ve only gotten to know and learn with for one semester.

Like any ending, this one tended to color the ups and downs of our school year into a tone more rosy than reality may have painted. With two kids under two, a hectic semester of required assignments, and the ever-present student mood swings offered by snow days, spring break, and finals week, we all struggled at times to stay committed to our work. No school year is ever smooth, or perfect, or simple–but I still like to celebrate its end annually with something tangible. As such, I give each of my students a gift at the end of every year, and have every year since I began teaching.

Here are three ways I “wrapped up” the ending of this school year–literally.


The Gift of Reading

Two groups of my students and I have been together for two years now, and in those two years, I’ve gotten to know these kids (I mean, they’re adults, but I will always refer to my students as “kids” when I think of them) incredibly well. They will be teaching in all content areas, in all grade levels, but still–I can’t seem to turn off my English teacher brain long enough not to say, hmmm, I know exactly what book that forward-thinking history teacher would like.

So this year, I pulled from my own bookshelves one or two books for each of my students–for their personal reading, for their classrooms, or both. In each book, I wrote the student a note, then wrapped each book individually. This time-intensive gesture has been rewarding in spades as my students contact me to tell me they’ve read and loved their books.

The Gift of Writing

We use Google Docs quite frequently, and one of my favorite activities to have students work on is to respond to a writing prompt on a collaborative Google Doc and proceed to write, think, and argue together on one page.

So this year, I printed out every collaborative Google Doc, group-written book review, team-created list of strategies, or class-crafted series of ideal classrooms, social justice non-negotiables, and pedagogically challenging teaching moves that we’d created and bound them together into a class “Anthology of Awesome,” which each student received.

On our last day of class, we shared the anthologies with donuts and coffee. I also brought thank-you notes for students to write to one another–personal messages they hand-wrote and hand-delivered to their critical friends, who had helped read and respond to their work all semester long.

With these pieces of writing in their pockets, my students left class with tangible reminders of the intellectual portion of our time together.

The Gift of Family

For better or for worse, with the end of each school year together, a class is like a family. Some members are dysfunctional, some are estranged, but in general, we’re a bunch of former strangers who now love, appreciate, and respect one another more than we did four quarters ago.

To help us remember this time together, I wrote my classes each a letter that highlighted each student by name, and comprised some of our memories together, our shared goals, and our funny moments. I added this letter to the beginning of our class anthology to serve as a reminder of our Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 7.11.46 AM.pngstudents’ names and personalities. For my future teachers, I created our ideal school, in which we’d all teach and get to work together forever. In past years, I simply wrote a letter of well-wishes to my kids, and included each student’s name and a little compliment toward them all.


As we wrap up this school year, these simple gifts are things you might consider crafting to help end your year with students on a high note. It’s easy to get caught up in the end-of-semester hubbub of grades, exams, and packing up classrooms, but I hope you’ll pause to commemorate a year of learning as a group in some way with your students, as well.

Please share how you “wrap up” the school year meaningfully with your students! We’d love to know in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter!

Shana Karnes will soon be leaving the wild and wonderful mountains of West Virginia for the great lakes of Wisconsin. She is excited to continue her involvement in Appalachian education by leading institutes with the National Writing Project at West Virginia University this summer, but will otherwise be relaxing and devouring as many books as she can during her two daughters’ nap times. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

What’s Your Book?

I spent most of Monday trying to organize my books. It’s a bigger deal than it sounds. I love books. My husband loves books. Together we have a massive book-loving marriage. And a problem:  Room.

Recently, we moved across town into a space that is just a tad bigger than the one room apartment we lived in as newlyweds almost 33 years ago. So, today we’ve sorted, remembered, donated, and pledged.

“I read more when the books are our in front of me,” my husband said as he put his favorite sales and marketing books on the shelf. “These are the ones I read again and again.”

“I think you should read this book,” he said, showing me Paradigms. “It’s a fundamental

Toberead

Just one of my to-read-next towers. I’ve also got the AP Lit and Book Love Summer Book Club towers.

book for anyone who is an innovator.”

It’s now atop my to-read-next tower.

“What’s the one book that hooked you as a kid?” he asked as I tried (and failed) to narrow my children’s book collection.

Anne of Green Gables. Easy. ” I said, “Yours?”

My Side of the Mountain.”

Most readers know that one book.

And isn’t it a treat that by definition of our jobs we get to help kids find their books — the ones they want to read, the ones that helps them fall in love with reading — if they haven’t fallen yet?

Today, I’d like to ask you:  “What is your book, the book that made you want to read?”

Our books

Amy Rasmussen lives and works in North Texas. Her classroom library is home to books, books, and more books — all selected to help inspire a love of reading in every single student. Btw, she and her husband have had numerous conversations about the books that made them readers. It was pretty much a first date prerequisite.

What Should I Read Next? – How to Further Fuel Your Bibliophilic Ambitions

Hypothetically, this post will offer upwards of 387,993 book recommendations for your ‘To Read Next List.” Honestly, I’m terrible at math, so that number may be a bit hyperbolic, but I bet it got your attention. Realistically, you may be cursing me by the end, because summer is NOT going to be long enough to explore all of these texts, even the mere fourteen I’ll link up to below may give me a run for my money (not in number, but I already have a lengthy “to read” list!), but oh my, my, did I hit the book recommendation jackpot.

My gal Shana who texted me just a few days ago suggested a podcast that has quickly become my latest obsession. Shana knows what’s what. She’s up writing at 5:00 A.M. almost daily, has rearranged her extensive personal book collection in a color-coordinated bliss that reminds me of High Fidelity, and is moving her family to Wisconsin to be closer to me. Ok, she may be moving to Wisconsin because of her lovely husband’s medical career, but she will be in the same state as I am. In short, she’s all kinds of awesome and I trust her recommendations implicitly. When she told me I needed to listen to this podcast, because it reminded her of me, I was tickled.

My husband is likely glowering as he reads this, knowing he has been trying with little success to get me hooked on podcasts for nearly a decade, but Shana’s suggestion that I check out the What Should I Read Next? podcast with Anne Bogel has my book list laden with enough literary lovelies that I’m going to need to take a sabbatical.

what should i read

Ms. Bogel is the author of the hugely successful, and likewise entertaining, blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, that explores countless angles to life as a modern woman.

Readers Beware If you click on the above link, you will land down a delcious rabbit hole of reading guides for book clubs, summer book lists, links to works of major authors, not to mention over one hundred podcast episodes talking about books and reading. It’s a biliophiles delight for sure.

After listening to only one episode of her podcast,  I wanted to someday be able to claim to have known Anne Bogel for years and chatted with her about books over a big bowl of Chex Mix with Peanut M&M’S, and I had a list of fourteen books that I want to check out. That’s a book recommendation every four minutes in a fifty-two-minute podcast. (My list from the followup episodes I’ve digested is likewise lengthy).

On this episode (one of four I have listened to in just the past three days), Annie Jones, owner of The Bookshelf bookstore in Thomasville, Georgia, chats with Bogel about recommendations for summer reading and the joys and trials of reading for a living.

As my workshop teacher senses apparently never go off, I not only mentally cataloged a lengthy list of book recommendations, but some advice I wanted to share with my students next year as we set reading goals and look to the future of our reading lives in the 2018-2019 school year: Never allow your reading life to be bogged down by a number. Whether you feel overwhelmed because your goal is so lofty that you end up flying through books instead of relishing them, or you nervously look at your elbow partner’s number and yours is nowhere near the depth, breadth, or drive of his/her reading life, don’t get discouraged.

Reading is all about finding balance.

The balance of goals with other parts of our lives.
The balance of genres.
The balance of what we feel we should read vs. what we want to read.

So, without further ado, here are a few suggestions from episode 132, “The books we can’t wait to read this summer”:

  1. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction. Last Christmas break it was America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (and their latest, My Dear Hamilton). In episode 128, Tracie Haddock recommends I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe. A woman disguising herself as a man to fight in the American Civil War? I’ll raise the flag for that!
  2. I often feel like I’ve got to read what’s hot. Well, what about what was hot a few years ago? Jump back a few years and check out these biographies of some seriously awesome women. Abigail Adams by Woody Holton and Wrapped in Rainbows by Valerie Boyd.
  3. Looking for a super hot memoir?  Educated by Tara Westover fits the bill. I had a student scoop this one up, but I am going to make sure to get it back and read it myself over the summer.
  4. Looking for last year’s super hot memoir? Try The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner.
  5. That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam was named one of the most anticipated books of 2018 by everyone from Buzzfeed to Vogue. A text classified as “Women’s Fiction” that’s written by a man and recommended by Celeste Ng. I feel like name-dropping, in this case, is what it’s all about.
  6. The Royal We by Heather Cocks is the ultimate Kate Middleton fanfiction. So…yeah. Beach read, anyone? This is a quick downhill on the Penny Kittle reading roller coaster for sure.
  7. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was one of my favorite reads this year and disappeared from my classroom the day I book talked it with the quote “Hell is the absence of the people you long for.” Post-apocalyptic symphony, pandemic flu, and multiple plotlines make this a truly powerful read.
  8. For musicians, lovers of music, and those that buy books based on their covers comes The Ensemble by Aja Gabel.
  9. A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza arrives in June and introduces Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint, SJP for Hogarth.
  10. Tangerine by Christine Mangan is a delicious Gone Girl type historical mystery. And to take it up a notch…
  11. Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton is apparently the R-Rated version coming out this summer.
  12. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert will most definitely be in my classroom library next fall as a YA fairy tale about fairy tales.
  13. The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey follows a young lawyer in 1920’s Bombay as she tries to execute the will of a man who leaves behind three young wives. This book is a multicultural adventure that introduces a sharp new sleuth for mystery lovers.
  14. Coming in July, The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon which is a “powerful, darkly glittering novel about violence, love, faith, and loss, as a young Korean American woman at an elite American university is drawn into acts of domestic terrorism by a cult tied to North Korea.”

There is certainly something here for everyone, and the few episodes of this podcast that I’ve listened to would suggest that there is something for everyone at What Should I Read Next? too. It’s quickly become my go to as I twiddle my thumbs and wait for my Libby library holds to catch up with my ambitions.

Happy listening and happy reading, friends! Summer IS just around the corner.

What’s on your summer reading list? Have you read any of the books in the recommendation list above? What did you think? Please comment below!


Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Her current read is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and she’s eagerly awaiting her next Libby hold, Stephen King’s On Writing.  Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum. 

Fitting It All In: The Think-Aloud Book Talk Combo

One of the questions I often hear about the workshop model (and truth: that I have often had myself) is how do I fit it all in?

We are “supposed to do” quick writes, independent reading, notebook work, small group discussion, whole-class discussion, think-alouds, read-alouds, writing along with students, conferring, anchor charts, building writing stamina . . . the list goes on.

Oh, and we need to do that while mastering assessment literacy, fostering positive relationships with students, offering timely and relevant feedback, developing units beginning with the end in mind, finding time to do our personal reading and writing, participating in our PLNs, developing collegiality with our coworkers, and staying current with our own professional development and practices.

It’s overwhelming to look at the list of “musts” and think that teachers are expected to do it all. The good part is that we don’t have to do it all every day. However, there are two things I find non-negotiable on a daily basis.

One of the non-negotiables is time in class for independent reading.

We do this every class period after the book talk. It’s predictable to my students that I will say “If either of these books sound like something you’d like to read, put them on your next reads list.” And then they start their silent reading.

book talk lists

Every book talk title is written on poster paper so that students can look back at them later.

The above exchange between teacher and students implies that we always have book talks, and that is in fact the case. But I find that book talks take more time than I want to take when I do them justice . . . three to five minutes can go by fast. I tried to speed them up, but I felt less engagement from my students, and fewer books were being checked out. So then I decided that instead of speeding it up, I’d try to incorporate some other “musts” into the book talk time, thereby getting “more bang for my buck” when I spend important class time.

I decided to try doing a cold read-aloud/think aloud as a book talk, sharing my thinking, questions, connections, and wonderings as I read the inside flap, discussed the cover, and read the first paragraph or so aloud.

I started with statements like, “I picked up this book because the cover caught my eye, and I don’t know anything about this book.” Or, “I am wondering about this book because I know it’s written by an award-winning author, and I’d like to know more.” Then I would deconstruct the cover, noting any awards and/or endorsements it might mention on the front or back cover, along with graphics, pictures, and blurbs.

1421

1421 The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies

Then I opened to the title page, checked the publication date, talked about the implications of the time during which it was published, mentioned any dedications, forwards, prologues, and prefaces.

1421 mapCharacter lists, timelines, family trees, and maps are also useful to talk to students about, and I would share my thinking as I went through these pages. (This is where the document camera is handy – projecting a larger image of some of these pages is quite helpful.)

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 6.17.49 PM

I read the first few paragraphs of Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brian recently. I was able to explain to my students that while I know the author, I am not familiar with this particular text. I talked about what I know about the National Book Award since it is mentioned on the cover. I essentially just talked about what I can learn from the title, author, and cover before I even open the book.

My students liked the vulnerability I showed because I honestly didn’t know everything I should know about the book. But the exercise helped them to understand that they don’t need to know everything when picking out books, and that it’s okay to ask questions, be unsure, and to take risks.

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 6.17.12 PMAnother title I picked up was In the Long Run by Jim Axelrod. No one had picked it from the shelf all year, and it still sat there as a brand new book. I asked students what the cover could tell us, and we started to guess that it could be about marathons, cross-country running, or anything else. They didn’t realize that Axelrod is a journalist, but as we read the back cover together, we learned a lot. I had a student take it and read it that day.

Developing lesson plans has to be prioritized because the reality is that the kids will show up every day. When we prioritize book talks, we usually think we need to get ready for them, to prepare for them in advance. I assert that it’s not necessarily true each time we share books with our students.

It’s why I think the cold read-aloud/book talk combo is useful. Students have a window into the thinking of a “master reader” as we choose books and talk about them authentically.

***My one caution is that as teachers, we have to know a little bit about the book we are reading from (being careful not to learn too much in advance in order to stay authentic). But I will admit I recently had a small embarrassing mishap when reading the first few paragraphs of So Anyway . . . by John Cleese. Be forewarned.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the world to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

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