Category Archives: Julie Swinehart

Three Ways to Go Public with Your Reading Life

We all know that part of building a community of readers in our classrooms and in our schools requires modeling the behaviors and habits we are trying to promote.

The question for me, though, has been how? How do we model our reading lives at school when we do most of our reading at home, on vacation, or while in the waiting room during our own kids’ orthodontist appointments? Our students certainly don’t have access to those moments, so modeling a healthy reading life can be a challenge.

Of course, we do read at school sometimes. But school is busy, and while our students are reading we are submitting our attendance records, welcoming in the occasional tardy students, and conferring. It’s difficult to model the behavior we want to see in our students because of all of the tasks teachers do.

This past school year, our school tried three different easy strategies for sharing our reading lives and habits with our students. They aren’t revolutionary, new, or difficult, but they worked, and I think they are worth sharing.

  1. We put laminated signs on everyone’s classroom doors. Sticky notes and scraps of paper were used for posting our current titles, and students regularly noticed and commented on different titles throughout the year. 65535402_2081290802172377_7501378884630216704_n2. After finishing our books, we took the sticky notes and scraps of paper and posted them in the secondary office of our school. This is a place where students and teachers are in and out every day, and it was on a highly noticeable wall. This bulletin board was a great place to get “next reads” suggestions, and sparked conversation between students, teachers, and other staff. 65977219_652574388573414_1805783836705947648_n
  1. Some teachers kept a list posted in their classrooms. I kept mine on my classroom door right next to my current reads sign so that when I changed out the titles, I could easily add it to my list.

One of the benefits of going public with our reading lives like this is it has motivated me to read through many of the books in my classroom library and in our school library. As I read through my classroom library, I got to know the books better, and I was more deliberate about book talks and about recommending titles to individual students.

While posting titles isn’t exactly the same as modeling the reading behaviors and habits we are trying to instill in our students, it’s close. It’s a visual reminder to our students that we read. It’s a way to show students that we aren’t asking them to do anything we aren’t willing to do ourselves, and it’s a great conversation starter when it comes to building next reads lists and encouraging independent reading habits.

Next year I will use these same strategies, and in addition I might try to get my students involved in the same type of board — a “What are the students reading?” bulletin board in our classroom where students can share titles and recommendations with each other.

How do you model a healthy reading life to your students? I’d love to learn about more strategies and ideas!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon,  four in Amman, Jordan, and the most recent school year in Managua, Nicaragua. 

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

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Summer Reading: One Answer to this Big Question

By now we all know that we don’t want our students to lose any of the healthy reading habits they have been building over the course of the school year. We’ve all worked too hard to build them, and to give these good habits over to the summer slide seems like a really bad idea.

So we need a plan. We know that if we don’t plan for a positive summer reading experience, that’s the same as planning for many of our students to not read at all… While many of our students will continue to read over the summer because they’ve established their reading habits quite successfully, others are still burgeoning readers and haven’t established these habits in the same way.

For example, I have one student who has resisted reading literally the entire year. She regularly told me that she doesn’t like reading. That reading is boring. That she doesn’t like books.

I kept responding with one word: Yet.

About three weeks ago, she changed her tune. She found a book she loves. She told me it was good. She liked it! (This is another argument for student choice when it comes to reading, but that’s a slightly different post.)

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Her book is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

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This respect for books and reading is new for this student. The reading habits are fragile, and her disposition could change over the summer. Nobody wants that… It’s too important to ignore.

It’s just one of the many reasons why our school has decided that summer reading is something we have to expect and encourage.

We want to honor our students and their individuality. They are all over the place when it comes to where they are in their reading journey, so there is no one-size-fits-all plan for summer reading.

Here’s the we-hope-it-works-for-everyone plan we came up with: Students will choose their own titles, their own number, and even the language in which they read. We’ve told them they need to read books in both Spanish and in English (we are in Nicaragua, so this is entirely appropriate). But no one is telling the students what books to read, how many to read, or what ratio their English to Spanish books needs to be.

  1. Students choose their titles based on next-reads lists, talking to each other, book talks they’ve liked, and what sounds fun for summer reading. Some will choose three, some five, some ten… we don’t give them a minimum number, we simply ask how many they think is a reasonable number for the summer. (We do try to get them to agree to at least three, though.)
  2. Students confer with their current ELA teacher, and that ELA teacher “nudges” them to possibly add something to their lists, or help them make decisions, but only if they need it. We try to avoid student frustrations from choosing books that are too hard over the summer, as they won’t have regular conferences with teachers, for example. We try to make sure they’ve chosen “enough” to read over the summer, based on what we know about them as readers. But all of this is based on student choice and preference.
  3. Students fill in a quick google form that will be shared with next year’s ELA teacher. This form will help next year’s ELA teacher with the first reading reflection, the first conference, etc. This is where the summer reading accountability is built in. No one will be “in trouble” for not reading over the summer, but it will be the basis for the first honest reading conference of the school year. Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 8.54.00 AM
  4. Students email their parents their summer reading choices with an explanation of the summer reading program. At that point they can check out their books from our school library (YES! They really can check out books over the summer! I love this so much!)Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 8.53.27 AM

Our summer reading plan really is just four easy steps. However, these steps are based on an entire school year of implementing student voice and student choice when it comes to reading. Students have a good idea about how much they could potentially read over the summer because they have just completed semester/year long reflections and recognize their growth and learning when it comes to reading. They have inspired themselves!

This plan will be implemented with this year’s current fifth grade students so they will enter sixth grade knowing that they are respected for who they are and what they like, but there is also an expectation that they will read. It’s a grade six through twelve summer reading plan, and I do think it will work. I’m excited to talk to my new students in the fall already about how their summer reading goes.

What does your school do for summer reading? I’d love to hear other ideas!

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 moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, and are loving their new adventure.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

One Pagers as End of Year Reading Reflections

Ending the year should be a ton of fun. Once the standardized testing season is over, it’s not time to let the days drag. It’s time to continue the learning, the fun, and the reflecting. As Angela wrote, it’s important to end the year strong, and on a positive note!

I think one-pagers are a great answer to some of the end-of-year-dilemmas we teachers face.

The possibilities for one-pagers seems to be endless. They are fun, they are hands-on, reflective, and what student doesn’t want to use markers and crayons in the classroom?

I’ve shared some of my experiences with one-pagers before, and I thought I’d share another idea or two here now.

At the end of the first semester, I asked my AP Lang students to reflect on their reading habits and experiences. This was our last assignment of the semester, and it was so fun and positive to grade. What a way to wrap up!

The requirements for the reading reflection one-pager were as follows:

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I modified this assignment from one a colleague shared with me. It originally focused on one book that a student would read for independent reading, so when I modified it into a semester reading reflection for AP Lang, I was unsure, yet hopeful, about how it would turn out.

One of the big differences between doing a one-pager for a book vs a semester reading reflection is the idea of What’s Your Number? I told students they could use any unit of measurement they wanted: pages, hours, books, chapters, inches, pounds, it didn’t matter. It just needed to represent their reading for the semester, as it acknowledges the accomplishments!

I was so happy with the results.

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I plan to ask my AP Lang students to do this again in a couple of weeks, but to focus on either second semester or the entire year, whichever they like.

It’s a positive way to end the year. It’s a celebration of learning and reading and growing, and it puts a smile on all of our faces.

How else have you used one-pagers in your classroom? I’d love to read all about it!

 

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 moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, and are loving their new adventure.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

 

 

So Many Great Reasons to try One-Pagers!

 

I’m always trying to find valid, fun, and interesting ways to assess different reading standards without assigning essays or quizzes. This year, in addition to conferences, graded video discussions, and “short story clubs” (instead of book clubs), I’ve assigned one-pagers to my students.

Most recently, I assigned a one-pager to my grade seven students. We have been studying poetry for the last several weeks, reading, writing, and talking about it. We developed a list of words we should use in order to raise our discussions to a more academic level, and my students created a word wall with that list.

When it came time for a summative assessment over the poetry we’ve studied, I decided to assign a one-pager.

A one-pager is exactly what it sounds like: one page of illustrations and information which demonstrate the student’s understanding or reflection of whatever the topic and learning that has been studied and practiced in the previous unit. With seventh graders, I allow them to make their one-pagers larger than the typical A4 size paper, so sometimes their “one-pagers” end up more like “three-pagers”, but the idea is that they are a cohesive unit, and taped together as one large captioned illustration rather than a series of pages that are stapled together in the corner like an essay might be.

Before assigning the summative assessment, I assigned a practice one-pager. All three of my seventh grade classes practiced with Shel Silverstein’s Sarah Cynthia Silvia Stout Would not Take the Garbage Out. It was a big hit. It’s funny and chock-full of poetic devices. Plus, it’s relatable to seventh graders and has a nice lesson at the end.

We spent a couple of work sessions practicing, talking, coloring, writing and generally having a nice time learning and reflecting on what we have learned. During the third work session, I asked my students to self-assess their practice one-pagers, using the rubric, and writing on the back of their papers what they think they earned in each of the three categories.

The rubric covered three standards, so students weren’t overwhelmed by small pieces and tasks. There are requirements for this assignment, but still a lot of room for individual choice and creativity.

This extra day of working with the practice poem paid off. I overheard students having their own “ah-ha” moments, checking the word wall for definitions and ideas, and talking to each other about things like couplets and alliteration. The conversations were really fun to overhear.

When it came time to complete the summative assessment, my students were ready. Each class was given a different Shel Silverstein poem: Cloony the Clown, Clarence, or Sick. Each of these poems contains several of the poetic devices we studied, and were written by a familiar poet. The final products were knock-out. Below I’ve included a few samples.

This is one of the many ways I’ve used one-pagers as a tool for learning and as a tool for assessing. I’ll share more later, and I look forward to hearing about how you use them in your own classes!

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

Popular Titles for Middle School Students

Lately I’ve seen several twitter and facebook posts asking for “must-purchase” titles for classroom libraries and book clubs. It’s that time of year – the time when we order for next year and cross our fingers that it all arrives by the first day of school.

Ordering titles for our classroom libraries is no joke, so I love seeing how thoughtful people are about it.

I thought I’d check in with my students to find out how they might answer that question, so I asked them what their best books of the year have been so far. They wrote about it and talked about it, and then I had them publicly post their titles so that other students could get inspired to read new titles, add to their next reads lists, or think about new titles for summer reading.

Here’s what we came up with:

Block A Best Books

Bad Kitty, Norse Mythology, Pugs of the Frozen North, A Wrinkle in Time, Hitler Youth, The Martian Chronicles, To the Field of Stars, All Fall Down, Echo, Auggie and Me, Our Surprising Love Story, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Long Way Down, The House of the Scorpion

All Fall Down by Ally Carter has been a big hit with several of my seventh grade girls. All Fall Down Cover

It’s the first in a mystery series, and three of my seventh-grade girls have read all three of the books in the series since I added it to my classroom library in January. It’s led one of them to read some of Ally Carter’s other books, and they have had some fun and authentic discussions about these books, which is always fun to witness.

Block C Best Books

The Fault in our Stars, Twilight, Long Way Down, Memoirs of a Geisha, Turtles All the Way Down, Sarah’s Key, Everything Everything, Big Foot, Looking for Alaska, American Sniper, Smile, Booked, Guinness Book of World Records, Anne of Green Gables, Perfect, Out of My Mind, Insurgent, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe moved one of my readers to tears.

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This student literally hugged her copy when she was done with it, and while she is a prolific reader, this one made it to her “top book” award. If this student recommends it, then I’m sold.

Block E Best Books

Eleanor and Park, Everything Everything, The DaVinci Code, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before, 3:59, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Crossover, The Maze Runner, Out of My Mind, The Hunger Games, The Perfectionist, Taste Test, Love that Dog, The Alchemist, Slappy New Year, Between Shades of Gray, Star Wars, The Popularity Papers

Out of My Mind seems to be a game changer for a few of my seventh grade readers.

Out of my Mind cover

Somehow, this sweet story of an eleven-year-old girl who is drastically underestimated has reached some students who I never would have pegged as liking “this kind of book.” One boy in particular has said it’s the best book he’s ever read, and if I could translate the look on his face into words, you wouldn’t doubt it.

Hopefully these titles my students shared will help with some of your purchasing choices this spring.

One thing to notice is that these titles aren’t the latest or newest publications, but they are fairly recently published, for the most part.

I think the important piece is not that we have the newest and hottest titles (not that it doesn’t help!), but that we realize that variety and availability are what matter. To illustrate this point, I’ll share an example: I purchased about 150 “new” books for my classroom library over the winter break, brought them back to Nicaragua in my suitcases, book talked them daily, and made them available to all of my students.

Variety and availability have made a significant difference in the reading habits and attitudes of many of my students. I didn’t spend a lot of money – some of the books I purchased second or third hand for fifty-cents apiece. I’ve reinforced the paperback covers with packing tape, and it helps. The point is that the books are readily available, and I know what I have in my library, I know my readers, and I can do my best to play matchmaker between book and reader.

How do you choose books for your classroom library? What are some of your must-haves?

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

Developing Common Language between Disciplines

I work with some great people. We are usually on the same page: we all want what’s best for kids, we respect and support each other, and do our best to communicate with each other. Even with all of theses good intentions and practices, we sometimes are reading different words off of the that same page.

Our school has set us up to meet as small groups every week in the form of PLCs. In my 7th grade PLC, we talk about students and curriculum, about days of service and classroom environment. Through these conversations we realized that we ask students to write similar types of texts in many of our disciplines.

While students are asked to write similar types of text, we were all using different language when describing and teaching it. While none of us felt that we needed to use the exact same language all of the time, we realized should at least make it clear to students that these writing tasks are related, and that they should transfer their new skills from one class to the next.

So today we created anchor charts for each of our classrooms. We gained new understanding from one another through the task, and our students will benefit with new clarity and understanding of vocabulary and writing strategies.

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We brainstormed ideas on the whiteboard before deciding what to put on our anchor charts.

Our group represents four disciplines: electives, science, English, and Spanish. Many of our students speak Spanish as their first language, so between the fact that we have Spanish speakers and students taking Spanish classes, we were sure to include vocabulary not just in English, but also in Spanish.

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Our final product looked like this:

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We feel as though now we teachers, and soon the students, will soon be reading the same words off of the same pages, and we will have common language between our classes. It’s a simple anchor chart to hang in all of our classrooms, but it will be a valuable tool for our young writers.

How do you ensure that your students understand the relationships between writing tasks in different disciplines?

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

Helping our Students Develop a Reader’s Identity through Reflection and Goal Setting

It’s the time of year when it’s important for students to reflect on their identities as readers. There is so much growth to celebrate – whether it be in disposition, habits, knowledge, fluency, or attitude.

Even though I see their growth, it’s important for our students to own it themselves, and to develop their own sense of identity instead of relying on my impression of who they are.

So we spent a little class time thinking and reflecting.

I asked them some questions to get them started. Who were we as readers when we started the year? How do we identify as readers now, and where do we want to be as readers at the end of the school year? What might that look like?

Now remember, I live in Nicaragua, the land of lakes and volcanoes.

We have lake and volcano views from our school. It’s stunning, and it’s part of our daily landscape. It’s what we know.

As we discussed what it means to have a reader’s identity, some of my seventh grade students struggled. They weren’t sure how to describe themselves, and they weren’t seeing their growth over the first half of the year.

Somehow (some moments in teaching defy description) we got to the idea of volcanoes. That we can all be a different type of volcano, and that it can describe who we are as readers.

We discussed four types of volcanoes: extinct, dormant, active, and exploding NOW. We soon decided to toss out the extinct volcano as a possibility, because there is no one in the class who never reads.

We described the three remaining possibilities, connecting reading identities to types of volcanoes:

  1. Dormant — Rarely reads, but lots of reading potential. Might remember what it was like to be active and erupt (in other words, be excited and enthusiastic about books and reading), but it might have been a long time ago…

  2. Active — Sometimes/often reads in spare time, enjoys reading, and has preferences about books, authors, genres, topics, forms, etc…

  3. Erupting NOW (we first used the word exploding, but switched to erupting because it’s more of a “volcano word”) — So excited about a topic, series, author, or genre… can’t get enough and won’t stop talking about it! We realized this category isn’t sustainable – we should actually move between the active and the erupting categories often.

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This illustration helped student visualize who they are and where they want to be as readers. They started to reflect and set goals, and realizing that they have identities as readers, and that those identities can improve and evolve.

Some of the initial reflections looked like this:img_2716-2.jpg

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I took our class ideas and created a simple reading volcano infographic that now hangs in our classroom library:

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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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