Tag Archives: booktalks

March Book Madness for Choice Reading Books

Can you believe it’s already the middle of March!?  This school year is flying by…and so is the list of titles I’ve booktalked so far.  I’ve exhausted the bestsellers of YA, dystopian sci-fi, classics, books for the beach, war books, and sports books.  At this point in the year, I’m starting to booktalk new purchases, which means I’ve often not yet read them–which means that sometimes, the quality of my booktalk decreases.

FullSizeRenderSo, because I want to shift the balance of not just grading from myself to my students, but also some of the teaching, I’ve turned to my own version of March Book Madness.  I heard about this competition from Tony Keefer’s Nerdy Book Club post, and I pitched it to kids, but they wanted to choose their own titles for the bracket.

So, blank brackets were printed, and to fill them, the guidelines were broad:  in each of my four English classes (which worked out well because they each get one corner of the bracket), students could choose a book and a partner to face off against.  Simple.

That was all I said, but as students began penciling in round one of the brackets, I was impressed mightily–they intuitively paired related books together, much like I do during booktalks.  Two boys in 8th period paired the excellent graphic novels Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Maus by Art Spiegelman.  Two girls in fifth period paired John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Gayle Forman’s If I Stay–two viral tearjerkers.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie will face off against Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Pena in sixth period.  And so on.

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Shae vs. Mariah in the Battle of the Tearjerkers…TFiOS vs. If I Stay

As book battles began, I laid out equally simple guidelines for voting.  Each student in a faceoff would give a short (1 minute) booktalk about their chosen text, and audience members could vote for one title based on any criteria–their own experience reading that book, the person’s booktalk, the presenter’s enthusiasm, the book’s stats on GoodReads behind the presenters, etc.

This modification to our daily routine–which is that students begin with reading, then hear my booktalks–has accomplished several wonderful things in our classroom.

First, students’ what to read lists, which had recently plateaued, are lengthening rapidly once more.  The sheer social capital of having a kid share his or her own reading experience of a book makes certain titles more tantalizing than I ever could.  Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like a Rock Star, for example, never quite flies off the shelves after I booktalk it.  It’s only after one or two kids read it and enthusiastically share it that it goes viral–and it does–year after year.  I see the same thing happening now during March Book Madness with lots of other books.  Kids are clamoring, suddenly, for several of the same titles.

FullSizeRender[1]Second, students are learning more about one another’s reading tastes.  They look at the brackets from other classes every day to see which books are advancing, and are sometimes surprised by who’s booktalking what.  “Huh…I didn’t know Jordan loved A.S. King too!”, I heard Hannah say yesterday.  “You read that book too!?  Wasn’t it awesome?!” Tyler said to Hunter, as he stood up with Ned Vizzini’s Be More Chill.  Despite my efforts to make their reading lives transparent with reading groups and notebook passes of book blogs, some of my larger classes haven’t quite unearthed the darkest corners of one another’s reading preferences.  MBM is fixing that quickly.

Third, this is not for a grade.  This is just a semi-structured celebration of books, with bragging rights as the purely intrinsic reward of the whole endeavor.  The five or so minutes we spend on this in class daily are a worthy time investment for the revelatory feel they bring to the start of our learning.  Kids are excited and upbeat after the two daily faceoffs, and excited to often add one or more of the four daily books discussed to their to-read lists.  The post-winter doldrums are quickly lifting…and the sunshine certainly isn’t hurting, either.

Is anyone else doing a version of March Book Madness?  How’s it going?  Please share in the comments!

The Importance of Being Reflective (as well as Earnest)

ocsI’m going to be honest…I’m feeling pretty bummed as I sit here to write this post. I have had my first “wish-I-could-do-over” teaching days of the school year.  I haven’t felt this icky about a teaching day since…2005.  Oh Amy, you would have flipped out to see my utter lack of zen today.

It’s all too easy for me to focus on what I’ve not been doing well this year, how I have been falling oh-so-very short.  But I’m going to view this opportunity to reflect on my practice as a way to reset and to return to the core of my teaching soul for the coming week.

One bright spot in all of my classes this year has been a small change I’ve made in how I talk about books. One thing Penny Kittle emphasized this past summer (love to #UNHLit13) was the importance of book talks as part of her class every day.  I’ve always gushed about books I’m reading (see Shana’s post “Fangirling About Books”, which may as well have been my post! Kindred spirits!), and I’ve always prided myself on being able to match students with books that resonate with them.  But I decided to make book talks a regular part of each day, right after starting class with independent reading.

This Monday I’ll talk about books #51 (Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan) and #52 (Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan).  My students like finding the connection between the two books, though the connection between these is kind of obvious!

There are myriad benefits to having these daily book talks.  Some of the great books I read from and talk about are new to my students, and sometimes there are some who have read them already.  This has created community and conversation around books, as students share opinions, do their own spontaneous plugs for the books, ask questions, and start fighting about who gets to read them first!  Students started a Book Wait List on the white board.

It has surprised me how much the students enjoy the book talks.  One day a couple weeks ago, I forgot to book talk (it’s a verb now!), and Stephanie, who doesn’t ever say anything in class raised her hand and asked, “Are you not going to talk about a book today?”  When a new student joined our class, I had Noe help her get oriented, setting up her notebook and so forth.  I overheard her say, “After we read, she introduces a couple of books. It’s one of my favorite parts of class, no joke.  There’s a lot of cool books she shows us.”  The other day, students pointed out that I neglected to update the titles for book talks on the agenda.

All of the energy around books has helped create a culture of reading in our classroom so that even the most reluctant readers are giving books a try. The books have become a bridge between me and some of the students who are typically “hard to reach.”  It’s still a challenge to be sure, and there are days some students are fake reading, but for the most part, students are realizing the books are here to stay!

For me, it’s always easier to dwell on the negative, but when I stop to think about it, there are quite a few things going well. It’s a process, and I’m growing and figuring out how to make my class an authentic reading and writing workshop. It is a source of strength to know there are people in my PLN all over the country striving to do the same!

(Coming up next month: How to respond to the question, “How do you assess that?!”)

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