Tag Archives: Classroom Library

#3TTWorkshop — Part Two Student and Teacher Buy In

This post is the continuation of a conversation from the previous post in response to an email we received from our friend an UNH colleague Betsy Dye.

How do we help students understand what we mean by choice, especially when they’ve been given ‘choice’ before in the form of ‘choose from this list of books or topics.’?

Shana:  Again, I think modeling is key here.  I show students my roller-coaster of reading, including the trashy romance novels I indulge in despite my Masters degree in literature.  I show them my pile of abandoned books, for “life’s too short to finish bad books.”  I show them classics that I sort of wish I’d read, but never have.  And then I show them my notebook pages of books I’m currently reading or want to read.

It also helps that I have students complete visual and written reading ladders each year, and I show new students the previous year’s ladders to illustrate individualized choice.  And again, here’s where the class reputation comes in handy as well.

Lisa:  ^This. Our stories as readers and writers are gold, especially to some kids who have no such models in their lives. My students laugh at my copy of Don Quixote on my desk. I started it in September. I am 200 pages in. I’ve read over a dozen books since I unintentionally stopped reading that tome, and I had to promise some of my juniors that I would finish it before they graduate next year, but I’ve covered a lot of ground by not allowing myself to get weighted down. Yes, we must press students to finish texts and not become kids that drop book after book without really pushing themselves, but we must also remember that when they do find the one, it can lead to the next one (especially with our gentle guidance) and hopefully many more to come.

In terms of writing, it’s more modeling and the application of the skill each and every day. Sometimes, it seems, it really comes down to endurance. Many kids only write when they have to, which causes them to sit in front of a screen, pound out the required pages, and move on. However, when they get into the habit of writing, when it becomes exploration instead of a narrowly focused task, it becomes less like completing your taxes and more like picking out what to wear. One you do not only do once a year with heavy sighs and confusion because you are basically out of practice and unwilling to do more than the required work. The other provides you with an opportunity to choose, express yourself, and build confidence.

Finally, the classroom library comes to mind. Variety here is key. Students need to see that they aren’t limited by the short list they might receive at the beginning of the year in other classes. If your library has options and you talk about those options often, they will believe. If you build it…they will come.

Amy:  I’ll repeat Shana:  Confer. Confer, Confer. The more we engage in conversations with our students about what we mean by choice and books and writer’s notebooks and everything else in the sphere of workshop, the more they will understand and take ownership of their choices. We must be willing to admit that choice is hard when they’ve never had it, or they’ve only had tiny tastes of it. So many students are afraid of being wrong, afraid of “the grade.” It’s through our conversations that we have the best chance of eliminating these fears and helping students trust themselves along the way.

How do we open the library shelves to our seniors and help them move beyond the four to six novels they’ve read each year for the three previous years?

Amy:  I’ll start with stating the somewhat controversial:  I doubt most of our seniors read

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Not my students’ actual conversation but still. 🙂

all the required novels teachers selected in those earlier years. Every year I ask my juniors how many books they read the year before. Some say they read only the required books. Some admit to starting but not finishing them. Some tell me they didn’t read those books at all. If we are going to make all the decisions about the books we choose for our students, we have to be okay knowing that not all of our students will read them.

Shana:  Ha–I know that kids don’t always read what’s assigned, because little goody-two-shoes me didn’t read what was assigned.  And I loved reading.  In fact, I read John Grisham under my desk while my teacher talked about Catcher in the Rye.  I tell students that story, and show them the many weather-beaten Grisham novels on my mystery shelf, and ask them about their guilty pleasure reads, or their life-changing reads, or their escape-from-reality reads.  [Amy:  or their Wattpad reads] All of those discussions start a conversation about the possibilities choice reading might offer, and we go from there.

Lisa:  I asked. They don’t read. They tell me sweetly, but still, they don’t read. Students I had as sophomores will gladly share with me as seniors all the ways they worked to convince me they read The Scarlet Letter, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

Amy:  Lisa, I had students publicly confess to not reading a thing in my class in a Facebook group I had several years ago. Stabbed me right in the eye because at the time I had no idea they could be so sneaky — and smart — and still make high grades in my class without reading the same American literature books you mention. It’s like they subconsciously deny the canon!

Lisa:  So…how do we open our shelves and help seniors move beyond the books they never read? By offering up a wealth of books they can read, telling them to look through the books at home they’ve always meant to read, sending them to book recommendation lists, talking with them about what they might want to do after high school and suggesting books in that vein, having them talk with peers who have kept up with reading and have recommendations to share.

I had a student who graduated in 2013 come back to observe some of my classes this week. He book talked Ishmael to my AP students today, and I just received an email from a student saying that he went to Half Price Books and picked up a copy tonight. 

The power of suggestion is strong. If I am surrounded by people working out, I might consider getting off my couch. If I am surrounded by people complaining all the time, I start to complain too. If I am surrounded by readers, I am going to see what all the fuss is about. Many of our students want to read, but they need time. We can provide it. Many of our students want to read but need suggestions. We can provide those. Many of our students want to read, but only what they want to read.

Bingo. Let’s start there and build on it.

How do we help our colleagues get started with workshop?

Lisa:  By inviting Three Teachers Talk to provide professional development! No, seriously. It’s how my team in Franklin saw all the possibility that workshop holds and how to actually make it work day to day. So that comes down to support. Comparatively speaking, curriculum in a textbook is easy. Curriculum you’ve taught for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years, provides comfort. Running off packets of study-guide questions isn’t too terribly difficult either. Building meaningful lessons from scratch is really hard work. I’ve lived it, and I’ve seen it happen at Franklin as we work to move our 9th and 10th grade classes to workshop. If we didn’t work at it together, it would be infinitely more difficult.

Shana:  Support is essential.  Whether it’s the kind of support one finds in a workplace colleague, or connecting with a like-minded friend via Twitter or a blog, workshop teachers are part of a community just as nurturing as the ones we strive to create in our classrooms.  It warms my heart and fuels my spirit to think of Lisa and Amy working on this craft in their Wisconsin and Texas classrooms, and it invigorates me on days I think I’d rather just run copies of a worksheet.  We’re all trying our best to craft strong, student-centered classrooms, and whatever guidance and support we can provide one another is a non-negotiable.  Pedagogical reading recommendations, webinars, and Twitter chats can all help our colleagues dive into workshop, and be buoys when we need them, too.

Amy:  Yes, to all that, and I can think of two other little things we can do to share this work with our colleagues:

1) invite colleagues to visit our classrooms. I am such a visual learner. When I see a strategy taught, over reading about a strategy in a book, I am much more able to use it successfully with my students. The same holds true for how workshop works. I read Nancie Atwell’s book In the Middle. It is a great book! But I could not imagine how I could make what she described work in my 9th grade classroom with 33 students. It wasn’t until I experienced writing workshop myself via the North Star of TX Writing Project Summer Institute that I got a vision of what workshop looked like.

Too often we teach like castaways on tiny islands, cut off from everyone else. Invite other teachers to walk through, sit a spell, engage in the same routines the students are doing. I think that is the single most powerful way to share the workshop philosophy with other teachers.

2) share student work, excitement, and testimonies. More than our own testifying to the power of workshop, it’s our students’ voices that move teachers. Do you remember the first time you watched one of Penny Kittle’s videos where she interviewed her students? Shana, I think this is the video we watched the summer we met at UNH. I love these boys.

Student voices = the sometimes needed push to fall over the cliff into this exciting workshop way to teach and learn.

Do you have topic ideas you would like us to discuss? Please leave your requests here or in the comments. Thank you for joining the conversation.

#FridayReads — A Book about Death to Teach Writing?

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

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

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

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New books added to by to read next list.

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

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

I kicked myself after.

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

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

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

But this is a comedy.

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

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

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

And something always happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading is fun. Isn’t it?

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

#FridayReads: Poetry as a Gateway into Reading

Before I started reading novels in verse, I had no idea how important they would be to the readers in my classroom. So many of my students who say they hate reading will read these books of poems that tell a story. (Chasing Brooklyn is one of the girls’ favorites. The Crossover, of course, is one of the boys’.)

This week, Sung, one of my quiet students from Myanmar, asked for a recommendation for her next book. She reads far below that of an 11th grader in an AP class, but she’s tenacious and determined to catch up to her peers. She and I have focused on her fluency since the beginning of the year when in our first conference I learned she could read all the words in a novel, but she understood little of the meaning. (Similar to my ELL student who read every word of The Great Gatsby last year without comprehending any of it. This was before I clued in to her need to save face with their peers.)

“I am reading,” Sung said, “but I don’t know what’s going on.”

I’ve heard this before, and I always celebrate when my readers let me in on this secret. (It takes guts to be vulnerable, especially at 16.) In talking with high school students who struggle with reading, I’ve learned they usually have no idea why. Most of them think they are slow or dumb — or they simply claim reading is boring or dumb because it’s easier to say that than admit reading is hard.

The hard part for me is teaching them to read. My degree is in literature after all, and my Masters in Secondary Ed did little to prepare me for the adolescent reading crisis I face every day. So I teach reading by getting students to read. I talk to them about their reading and get them talking to me about their thinking.

8537327Sung had just finished her 8th novel in verse, her favorite so far, Inside Out and Back Again. As I conferred with this reader, she told me she wanted to try something more challenging that was a ‘real’ novel. What she meant was a story with more words on the page. (Last year I caught one of my ELL students at the book shelf flipping through books. When I asked him why, he said he could tell if he could understand it depending on the “thickness of the words.”)

I walked to my “Explore: It’s Your World shelf” and pulled a few books I thought Sung might like:  Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, In Darkness by Nick Lake, Copper Sun by Sharon Draper, Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse, a book of short writings by various authors about human rights, published in association with Amnesty International, and several other titles I cannot remember now.

Then, I gave her time to explore.

A few minutes later, Sung held two books in her hands and quietly told me she wanted to read them both. She left the room with Karen Hesse’s award-winning book and the anthology of stories by writers like these: Paulo Coelho, Yann Martel,  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ishmael Beah, and more. These are not difficult books. They are not complex. They are way too easy by most high school standards. But they are exactly what this young woman needs to not only grow in confidence as a reader, but to grow as a citizen of her world.

And an interesting insight? Quite often it takes more inferencing skills to understand the story in a novel in verse than it does with a story written in prose.

_________________________________________________________________

For a list of other novels and verse, see this post.

Here’s a highlight from my most recently read novel in verse, Audacity by Melanie Crowder. I think it will make a nice quickwrite at the beginning of the year as we build a reading community:

alight  22521938

I passed my Spelling

and Mathematics exams!

 

I hurry after work

to the free school

to check the schedule

for the next round:

Geography

History

And Trigonometry.

 

The thing that separates

rich from poor

in this world

is knowledge.

A person can rise up

 

if she can read

if she can think

if she can speak.

 

I cannot attend

every class

every lecture

but if I share what I learn

with the girls in my shop

in between bites

during lunch

 

ff Pauline shares

with the girl in her shop

in between bites

during lunch

it is as if we all

Were there together.

 

I see

these lunchtime lessons

spreading like fire

skipping from one box of tinder

to the next

across the shops

through the slums

until the entire city is alight

with small

fierce-burning flames.

Try it Tuesday: Taking Your Classroom Library Digital

Spring break in Wisconsin is sort of a misnomer. Thank the heavens, it is a break. Time enough to make to-do lists that are far too long to actually do, but blessedly, reading time abounds and my tented texts are multiplying.

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Ice covered trees just last week

But Spring? Not so much. Not usually. The cherry blossoms may be bursting into bloom in Washington and roadtrippers to Florida are finding warm sunshine and sand, but in Wisconsin, we’re a bit…behind.

Mother nature likes to tease Wisconsinites. Sixty degrees one day and snow that evening. Literally. My toes are cold just thinking about it.

However, as is the eternal promise of rebirth in spring, there are signs. Robins have returned, tiny buds are appearing on the trees, and the first flowers have pushed their tiny heads above the snow and suggested that warmer weather really might be on its way.

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Crocus braving the elements

And so, with the hope that warmer days might actually be on the horizon, I get the undeniable and somewhat inexplicable urge to clean, organize, and pull my brain out of the numbing chill of winter. Throw open the windows (brr!), place hands on hips, and get to work. You’ll recall my to-do lists mentioned earlier? Several closets are in my sights and I geekishly delight in the thought of heading to the Container Store to finally wrangle the toys my daughter received for Christmas.

In the same way, before break, I surveyed my classroom (hands on hips and a waning desire to grade papers) and decided to tackle my number one organizational nightmare.

Mainly? My classroom library check in and check out.

With a recent influx in books for this library, there is excitement, variety, and chaos.

It’s new. It’s wondrous. It’s a big, ugly, mess.

As students clamour for new books (Yay!), their attention to our sign-out sheet has gotten messy at best, and completely ineffective at worst.

I was getting emails from kids weekly – Hi Mrs. Dennis, I accidently walked out of class with the book I grabbed. Could you sign it out for me?  or  Mrs. Dennis, I stole one of your books. Well, I didn’t steal it, I’ll give it back, but I have it and didn’t sign it out. Is that ok? 

Please, steal a thousand books if they are going to get read. However, it’s tricky. I can’t find books I thought I had. Students look for a texts and I don’t know if they are there or not. I go to book talk a text and it’s nowhere to be found.  #biblioissues.

But short of a full library scanning system and detectors that wail if you try to take out a book that’s not checked out, I was sort of at a loss.

So I turned to my friend Google, in search of different ways to handle the blessing of enthusiastic readers. And what I came up with has worked really well for my students that don’t always remember to sign books in or out during class, as they can now take care of it both in class and out.

I wanted it to be simple and provide me with some insights into both my students and the texts they choose. I needed to be accessible and easy for kids to use too. And, I wanted to try and create something that would run itself.

Enter – Google Forms.

Below, you’ll see the steps I took to digitize my classroom library, quickly and easily. 

  1. Create a Google Form that students can access easily. Forms provide you with a URL that can be sent to students’ email, pasted to a digital class syllabus, and/or shared on a class website. Once students fill out the form, all of the data is collected on a spreadsheet that you can alphabetize by student name, book title, or any category you like.

    Library 1

    The opening page leads students to differing questions depending on their need

  2. Differentiate questions on the form to gather the data you want. Below, you’ll see the questions I asked depending on whether a student was checking a book out (tell me what you are taking) or checking a book in (tell me how the reading went).
    • Checking out a book, I’m just looking for the basics:

      Check Out

      The basics so that I know where the book went.

    • Checking in a book, I’m looking to see if a student successfully completed the reading or didn’t, and why.

      Sign In 1

      The first page of the check in.

    • If students abandoned a book, I’m looking to find out why and if they successfully completed the book, I’m interested to find out what they thought.
      Abandon

      Reasons a student might have abandoned a text.

      Finished Book

      Insights once a student finishes a book.

  3. If you want it used, place the link to this form everywhere! I have the form linked to the top of my digital syllabus, I sent the link to students to save via Remind, I emailed it to their school account, and I made QR code for my classroom wall that students can scan, taking them directly to the form. Library Mangement
  4. Much like a mini reader’s conference, read what students are saying about they are reading. In the few weeks I have been asking students to use this form, I have taken away several key insights.
    • Book talks ARE making a difference. 

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      Forms gives you data to help guide future text selections, book talks, and recommendations.

    • Students do read more simply because we give them time! Several students commented that they picked up a book for in class reading and then checked it out to keep reading.
    • Kids care about what their peers are reading. In the section where students suggest why they choose a book, many suggest that hearing their peers talk about a book, or simply seeing someone else read it, piqued their interest.
      Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 9.57.24 PM

      You can take a look at student responses by submission, or…

      Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 9.55.53 PM

      Go to a spreadsheet that you can organize to best supply data in any category you choose.

 

All in all, my organizational itch has been…digitized.  And as I sit and wait for spring during this week off of school, my closets may stay messy and I’ll never get through all the books I want to read (I did manage to start Animal Farm during my daughter’s nap today. A student recommendation and a sneaking suspicion I may be asked not to return to work if someone found out I haven’t ever read it have fueled my most recent read), but over 70 students have used my new classroom library form and that warms my heart, if not my toes.

UPDATE: Here is a link to a copy of my Google Form. Please feel free to make a copy of it for your own use! Enjoy! 

 

How have you made your classroom library run more smoothly? Other ideas on collecting usable data from readers workshop? Please leave your comments below! 

 

 

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

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

And I am proud of it.

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

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

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

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

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

In class this week, I gave students an assignment:

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

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

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

#FridayReads A Must-Read Book: All American Boys

I saw a tweet last week that read something like this:  “What if you look like the people others are afraid of?”

The context was the Syrian refugees, I’m sure. The terrors in Paris blasted the news. So many dead. So many injured.

So many with no place to go.

My heart hurt, and I am not sure about the timing, but I’m quite 25657130sure God told me to read the book All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, the story of two American teens who attend the same high school:  one white, one black. Both with families who love them. Both caught in a situation that represents many we’ve heard over and over again:  “the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.”

For the past couple of weeks my students and I have read some of the writing of Leonard Pitts, Jr. We read his work to learn to become better writers. Among others, we read “We need a better plan to probe police shootings,” and “We don’t want to watch police — but we have to.” We talked about Pitt’s message, and we analyzed his craft.

We questioned what we know has happened way too often, and we shared ideas and opinions about how the actions of some affect the lives of many.

We sat in a circle: Black and White and Chin and Mexican. We talked. And listened. We tried to understand.

All American Boys is a story for every classroom library. It’s a story for every classroom teacher. Every administrator. Every parent. Every police officer.

We must invite candid stories and candid conversations about race into our learning environments. How else will we ever learn to see past color into hearts and minds and hope?

Booklist Starred Review states: “. . .this hard-edged, ripped-from-the-headlines book is more than a problem novel; it’s a carefully plotted, psychologically acute, character-driven work of fiction that dramatizes an all-too-frequent occurrence. Police brutality and race relations in America are issues that demand debate and discussion, which this superb book powerfully enables.”

If you add one book to your reading list this fall, I hope it is All American Boys. It ranks right up there with Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock for books that will stay with me forever.

I need about 10 copies for my classroom library.

An Authentic Connection: Literacy and Citizenship

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Room 369: The New Home of the Francis Gittens Lending Library

It is finally time for educators across the state of New York to head back to school. Here in the city, we have one day to organize, get our rooms situated, be professionally developed, catch up on the summer on-goings of our colleagues, and be ready to open our doors and welcome our new students full with promise – tomorrow.

So, as I let this ruminate; I find myself referring back to an article I was sent this summer to keep my mind whirling and my thinking on the edge.  Why are students falling off track?  According to this piece from Education Week the gap that separates students from achieving academic success is staggering.  This is not news.

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A moment of calm amongst the disorganization…

However, as I have had to arduously undergo this move of 3,000 books and their accompanied bookshelves (the entire Francis Gittens Lending Library) from room 382 to room 369; much has come to light.  I’m no stranger to believing that literacy is the key to access, opportunity, and self-worth; or that the Readers Writers Workshop is the venue in which to do so. Yet, this experience — this move, has taught me even more.

Literacy needs to be passed on.  It cannot remain only within our classrooms or the classrooms down the hall.  It must be infiltrated into the homes in which our students live; brought with them on public transportation where book covers are viewed by others; shared with siblings.  It must continually be invited and welcomed into places it does not often find an invitation.  That’s our job as educators.

I’ve been reflecting on this past year, and years prior, to recollect what I believe to be some of the most vital components of the educating that occurs within the Readers Writers Workshop – and I always come back to the same two elements: creating a love and thirst for knowledge through literature and fostering the creation of students’ voices through writing.  This was solidified when Daphtho (pictured above) matter-of-factly stated, “Ms. Bogdany, you don’t have to thank me for helping with the move.  It’s my way of thanking you for helping me receive my diploma.”

So when Daphtho and George (two recent graduates) offered to spend their time among the heat, lifting and moving and organizing and undoing and reorganizing and waiting (for me to make aesthetic decisions); they quietly schooled me.

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A moment’s pause amidst the move…

Through their actions they showed me that when we are relentless in supporting their thinking and ideas, when we foster them as individuals (not just students) they innately become the young men and women they are destined to become. They are willing to give back to their community (even if they are no longer going to be physically present). They understand what it means to feel safe to take risks, comfortable to allow vulnerability to surface, and the power of giving back.  And, are eager to pass it forward.

During the many hours of this move, there were quiet (if not silent) moments of understanding.  Albeit the towering stacks of boxes that needed unpacking, these young men stopped in their tracks as they found literature that spoke to them – and found themselves comfortable spaces in which to explore. Daphtho will be bringing literature home for his brother entering sixth grade as he works side-by-side with him on his literacy skills (knowing the importance of a strong foundation) and George decided on two pieces that were donated by a friend of mine from high school – ponderings and questions about taking the next steps in our lives.

So no, my urgency for, “Time is ticking” did not kick in.  But what did kick in was, “This is exactly what this time needs to be.  Us. Books.  Connection.  They are ready for their next steps.  How grateful I am to have borne witness to their growth and how wildly fortunate I am to know them as the citizens they have become.”    

What elements of the Readers Writers Workshop do you believe propels your students in becoming robust citizens?

 

Mini-Lesson Monday: What Will You be Book Talking?

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At the very beginning of the year, I relish in choosing the books that I want to expose students to via Book Talks to hook ’em, spark an interest, or at the very least; have them raise an eyebrow.  With over 3,000 books on our lending library, it can be a daunting and downright overwhelming process for reluctant readers to choose a book to kick off the year. To start their reading journey.  To be brave enough to try something they haven’t before. To simply engage in the process.

Sometimes a mini-lesson is about exploration; such is the case as students are trying to find their way through the minefields of endless books.  While it’s important to educate students on skills and techniques; it’s also just as beneficial to teach them how to authentically explore letting their interest and intrigue guide their process.

So, we pull back and take it slow…

Objectives – Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels: Students will draw from their own interests and personal experiences to predict the literature that will capture their attention and support their literacy growth.  Students will assess their reading fluency and stamina through analyzing their reading rates, commitment to completing books, and data that supports their movement.

Lesson: To kick off the introduction to the library, I choose a few pieces to Book Talk – share an excerpt, a few paragraphs, sometimes a page or two…but nothing too long.  I keep it short.  To keep the energy high and interest levels peaking, I want the process to flow and be completely full with variety.  (After all, at the beginning of the year, I am unfamiliar with who many of my students are as readers.)  I ask students to jot down titles in their Writer’s Notebooks that have caught their attention as to keep them in mind – now or in the future.

Next, we physically tour the library where I expose students to the themes (not genres) that categorize our books.  Fun ones such as:  No Sleep Till Brooklyn (compliments of the Beastie Boys – books on our favorite borough), Behind Barbed Wires (Holocaust affiliated literature), A Day in the Life (stories of all kind)…  Along the way I show students where I grabbed the books that were Book Talked.  This is essential because, if students are interested in a particular piece, this process provides them with a focus.  With so many books to choose from, initially narrowing down their interest to a section or two makes the process manageable…and quite enjoyable.

Once we’ve toured our library, students are given time to explore.  They choose books that have caught their attention.  Eventually, stacks of books are taken off the shelves and brought back to our tables. Students are then given an opportunity to interview their books of choice by having time to explore them – covers, flaps, table of contents, page 107; whatever they are drawn to.

To guide students along in this process I also provide them with The Six Steps to an Effective Book Interview:

1. Jot down the title and author of the book.

2. Study the cover.  Jot down some of your thinking… What do you think this piece may be about?  What do the colors and visuals represent?  Does the cover alone capture your attention?

3. Read the back of the book or the inside flaps.  What is this book about?  What is intriguing or off-putting about this book?  What questions do you have?

4. Open the book to any page of your choosing.  Read three consecutive pages.  

5. What do you foresee being an obstacle when reading this book? (Language, vocabulary, author’s point of view, etc.)

6. Are you interested in reading this book either now or in the future? Will it be going on your Next-to-Read List?  Explain your rationale.

In the meantime, I am conferring with students all over the room: the ones at the library scoping things out, students who seem a bit disengaged, those who have chosen a piece at lightening speed, ones already interacting with The Book Interview and everyone in between.  There becomes a buzz in the room which signifies the learning process has begun!

Before class rounds an end, I ask students to bring at least one book home with them and read for 45 minutes.  This is a process.  Some students are psyched about their choosings and others are disappointed that they didn’t find ‘the one’.  We talk it through.  It’s imperative for each student to leave with literature, yet we also leave with an understanding that if it does not feel like a right fit after they’ve had time outside of class to ‘play with it’, then we go back to the drawing board again tomorrow – knowing just a bit more about why it wasn’t the one. And the cycle of collecting data on students’ interests and needs commences.

Follow-Up: As the year progresses and students and I learn collectively what they enjoy reading (and what they are willing to be challenged by), Book Talks become more tailored to student interest. Sometimes they are done with specific students in mind, other times they are presented based on big ideas/themes (love, injustice, the power to overcome, etc.).

The beauty of this process is that although Book Talks remain a constant all year, students do not bore of them; every day they are different.  And, students become more in-tune with what they enjoy, are curious about, want to challenge themselves with, etc.  Typically by mid-year, students are no longer needing to use the The Book Interview because, by that point, it has become an innate part of their process.

What initial strategies do you instill in your classroom to make the rest of the year’s learning fruitful?

#FridayReads: Some of the Classics

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Alice in Wonderland pop-up book – full with rich colors, adventure, and 3D visuals.

“Oh, one of your students is reading Alice in Wonderland?!  I love that.  Are they captivated by it?  I wrote my entire master’s thesis on that piece.”

Last year, a colleague of mine was through the roof to hear about some of the children’s classics that my students were engaging in:  E.B. White’s pieces, Peter Pan, The Secret Garden, The Tao of Pooh, Alice in Wonderland – which holds a very special place in her heart.  But, for some reason students across the board have been guided away from these treasures.  Why are we steering them away from the simplicity of tapping into their inner nostalgia, re-entering times in their lives where there was quiet innocence and a simplicity that innately dissipates as we mature?

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In between reading The Classroom and The Cell and I Am Malala, this young man enjoyed the layered themes of a charming classic.

Charlotte’s Web was just as powerful for me as a thirty-something adult as it was as a seven-year-old little girl.  The latter was an opportunity to finish a chapter book full with robust (animal) characters and an opportunity to connect with Fern, the moralist. The former was a rich experience as I explored the theme of love, relationships, sacrifice, and an understanding of death (as I had recently lost my grandmother).

One of the important elements of the Readers Writers Workshop model is the idea of roller coaster reading. As Penny Kittle adequately puts it; adults read books on all different levels based on interest – students deserve the same.

I couldn’t agree more.

Think back to a time you dedicated your reading to a piece that was difficult – for you – for whatever reasons affiliated with that experience.  Often times, we decide to ‘take it easy’ once we’ve conquered a book of that caliber.  We’ll play with levels and genres and graphic novels and page numbers…and any other factors that play into our decision making.  But, we typically veer from the intensity.

Until we’re ready to try again.  And, we typically are ready at some point because we experienced the pride that comes with such a challenge.  It just may not be our next book…or the one after that…  But, we will find ourselves back there because it’s important to do so.  Students will too.

Roller Coaster Reading : All readers should have the luxury to go on such a ride!

Roller Coaster Reading : All readers should have the luxury to go on such a ride!

And while there is the push for lexile reading, and all of the other ways to monitor student reading, we must let students read what their souls ache for.  Whether it be luxuriating in a time of childhood innocence or challenging their vocabulary with a much more difficult piece.  When we provide space for students to explore (and yes, children’s books included) students find the roller coaster that suits them – a bit of scare and intrigue balanced with comfort and adventure.

A wonderful way to provide students the opportunity to monitor such reading is through the creation of a Reading Ladder.  (Scroll down to Q1 and Q3 to find information on how to create ladders and see examples.)  Simply, by reading various books on differing levels, students have the opportunity to review their learning, progress, fluency, and stamina…all the while having choice.

This year, I intend to watch our I’ll Always Be A Kid shelf grow as more and more students find themselves drawn to some of the classics from their childhood.  A handful of students love this shelf because they reminisce about reading (or having that book read to them) while others are exploring children’s literature for the first time.  Our adolescent parents are intrigued as they scope for titles that they want to bring home to read to their own little ones – because passing on the gift of literacy is priceless.  Regardless of the rationale, students end up falling in love with the magic.

What hesitations or fears surface when thinking about high school students reading children’s literature?

#FridayReads: Books Boys Love

Bedtime_readingAt the conclusion of our course with Tom Newkirk at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institutes, our class collaboratively created a list of books that boys love.

Please add your own suggestions for your male students’ favorite books in the comments!

  1. Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, and Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer
  2. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
  3. Unwind and others by Neal Shusterman
  4. Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  5. Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra
  6. Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides
  7. Maze Runner by James Dashner
  8. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock and BOY21 by Matthew Quick
  9. Mexican Whiteboy and others by Matt de la Pena
  10. I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
  11. Start Something That Matters, Little Princes, and other inspiring memoirs
  12. Winger and 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
  13. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  14. A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer
  15. American Sniper, The Things They Carried, Ghost Soldiers, The Good Soldiers, No Easy Day, and other war books in general
  16. City of Thieves by David Benioff
  17. Boot Camp and others by Todd Strasser
  18. Stiff, Spook, etc. by Mary Roach
  19. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  20. Anything by Gary Paulsen or Jack Gantos
  21. Iron Man, Deadline, and others by Chris Crutcher
  22. The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
  23. Warhammer novels by Ian Watson
  24. The First Stone, Running on Empty, and other books by Don Aker
  25. GRAPHIC NOVELS:
    • Walking Dead
    • Maus
    • Watchmen
    • A Dozen Demons
    • V for Vendetta
    • American Born Chinese
    • Chew 
    • Naruto
    • Pride
    • Persepolis
    • Burma Chronicles
    • My Friend Dahmer
    • Stitches
    • The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan With Doctors Without Borders
  26. Ice Time by Jay Atkinson
  27. Everything by Walter Dean Myers
  28. An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff
  29. Crank, Rumble, and more by Ellen Hopkins
  30. 4021A by Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son)
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