Tag Archives: independent reading

10 Pedagogical Must-Reads for Workshop Teachers

IMG_0650I met with my new student teacher a few weeks ago, and he asked me to borrow any books that might help him get going on the readers-writers workshop–the “theory” version of Jackie’s starter kit.  He’s been in my classroom before, so he knows the general routine and character of our work, but he wanted to know the ins and outs of how I thought and planned and conceptualized the whole thing.

I sat at my desk and looked at all of the titles I had on hand, remembering how influential reading them for the first time had been.  As a result, it was hard not to just dump my entire professional bookshelf onto a cart for him, but I managed to pick out a few titles that have guided me most adeptly in one aspect or another of my current classroom practice.

  1. Book Love by Penny Kittle – This was the book that helped to solidify my vision of an ideal classroom.  Before I read it, I had already been doing many of the best practices Penny mentions–writer’s notebooks, choice reading, personalized writing.  But I didn’t know how to bring it all together until Book Love.  As such, this is my #1 recommendation for any teacher looking to jump-start their individualized workshop curriculum.
  2. Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle – This book introduced me to the concepts of mentor texts, reading like a writer, and best draft/publication of writing.  I learned about quickwrites, constant revision, writing conferences, and a great deal more of what are now standard routines in my classroom.  This is the book for anyone curious about the big picture of writing instruction.
  3. Finding the Heart of Nonfiction by Georgia Heard – I was raised in the tradition of literature as containing mostly fiction and poetry, but Penny’s books helped me see the great value of nonfiction.  I wanted to know how to integrate it well into my thematic units, and this book helped me do that.  Georgia’s book is full of wisdom about finding the soul of good nonfiction writing and matching it to your students’ needs.
  4. Choice Words by Peter Johnston – This book taught me how to talk to students.  It is my #1 recommendation for anyone looking to address those pesky Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core–this book teaches you about the delicate, volatile power of a few choice words between you and your students.  I re-read it every year, and it might be the most important book in this stack.
  5. Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones by Tom Newkirk – This book is subtitled “Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For,” and Tom Newkirk certainly made me want to engage some of my former teachers in fisticuffs when I finished it.  This text is full of common-sense brilliance that will transform the way you think about why we teach reading and what kinds of texts we teach.
  6. Boy Writers by Ralph Fletcher – Why do my students keep writing about violent gun battles?  Why do they always ask if they can swear in their writing?  What’s up with the complete unwillingness of my boys to be vulnerable?  If you’ve asked yourself these questions…this book is for you.  Ralph writes about everything you ever wondered about boy writers and how to move them forward in their writing.
  7. Readicide by Kelly Gallagher – Schools have been killing reading for many years, Kelly argues, and then presents ways you can stop the slaughter.  He fires away at pop quizzes, assigned chapters, multiple-choice tests, and all the practices that steer our students toward SparkNotes.  Then he reveals ways to get students authentically engaging in literature in a way that doesn’t kill their love of reading.
  8. Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts – After finishing Readicide and wanting to abandon the eight or so whole-class novels I once felt chained to, I wasn’t sure how to teach close reading skills.  This book answered that question for me, and more.  Chris and Kate reveal how to use poems, articles, short stories, and selections from novels to get kids interacting with the beauty and power of language in all kinds of texts.
  9. Reading Ladders by Teri Lesesne – When all of your students have finally found a book they will actually read–then what?  Teri Lesesne taught me how to help students climb a reading ladder of text complexity with this book.  It’s a tough battle to get all kids reading, but it’s even tougher to get them to all challenge themselves once they are.  Reading ladders are the solution to the increasing complexity question–now they’re a consistent part of my instruction.
  10. Revision Decisions by Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean – After reading the first nine books on this list, I still wasn’t sure where grammar instruction fit in.  I knew to have students read like writers and learn from language and sentence structures that way, but I wasn’t sure how to structure my mini-lessons, until I read this book.  Jeff and Deborah helped me find strong craft study lessons and bring them into the classroom in a way that appealed to students and also benefited them immediately in their writing.

This is by no means an exhaustive list–That Workshop Book by Stephanie Harvey, Read Write Teach by Linda Rief, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, and many other integral titles were simply not on my shelf when I gave this stack to Mike.  But these top ten are ones I wouldn’t be the same teacher without.

What other titles are essential to your practice?  Please share in the comments!

Update:  Here are must-read folks that readers have suggested via Twitter and Facebook, as well as in the comments:

  1. Lucy Calkins
  2. Nancie Atwell
  3. Linda Rief
  4. Katie Wood Ray
  5. Donalyn Miller
  6. Don Graves
  7. Donald Murray
  8. Peter Elbow
  9. Ariel Sacks
  10. James Moffett
  11. Louise Rosenblatt

Mini-lesson Monday: Thinking about Complexity

Many of my writers seem stuck in simple sentences. I think this has something to do with their reading fluency. When I ask them to read me a few lines out loud, they read in monotone with faltering phrases and seemingly little knowledge of the workings of punctuation. One of the best assessment tools I have for knowing what my readers need to help them become better writers is these few moments of one-on-one read alouds– them to me — in conferences. These conferences also remind me how closely my reading and writing instruction must be aligned. If my students cannot read well, I cannot really expect them to write well. (And it shows the huge variance of abilities in my AP Language classes.)

In an effort to move my readers and writers into more complexity, and to get them to start paying more attention to sentence structure in their independent reading, I know I must expect them to take action with what they learn. But I do not want to mandate anything I cannot keep up with, nor anything that will make students not want to read. So I decide to start a new challenge with our “quotes board” — the one that’s remained largely empty for most of this year.

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels students will recognize and identify interesting and complex sentence structures; they will then copy the sentence into their writer’s notebooks and/or onto a notecard to use it as a mentor; then in their weekly blog posts, they will write and practice their craft, including at least one beautifully constructed sentence in their post. (If they choose to share their mentor sentence, they will pin it to our “quotes board” to display it for the week.)

Lesson:  First, I remind students that we’ve talked about sentence boundaries and sentence structure since the beginning of the year. I tell them that today we’re going to learn two different types of sentences:  periodic, and loose or cumulative, and look at how writers link details and ideas within sentences that create description and often rhythm.

I say, “We are going to study sentences from the 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winner All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Doerr is our writing coach for the week. Let’s see what we can learn about writing more interesting sentences.”

I project the loose sentence, and we talk about where the independent clause lies within it. “How do all the details trailing off of the main idea make the sentence more interesting? What do you notice?”

loose sentence 1

After we’ve discussed the loose sentence, and I feel like students understand what makes it loose and how to identify this type of sentence, we move to the periodic sentence.

I project the following periodic sentence, and we talk about where the independent clause lies within it. “Why put the main idea of the sentence at the end?” I ask.

periodic sentence 1

We discuss why the author might have chosen to craft the sentence this way. “What does putting the main clause of the sentence at the end do for the meaning?” I ask.

Next, we study a few other beautifully crafted sentences I pulled from the novel. (There are so many!) Each time encouraging students to talk with one another to first identify the independent clause and then determine if the sentence is loose or periodic or an interesting combination. I remind them to discuss the meaning of the sentence and why the structure might matter.

We study.

beautiful sentence

and

beautiful sentence 2

And before we move into searching for loose and/or periodic sentences in our own independent reading books, I ask students to practice reading these four sentences aloud to one another.

“Pay attention to the rhythm of the sentence and what the punctuation does to create that rhythm,” I say. I give them a few moments to read sentences to one another at their tables. Low stakes. They know one another well, and there is no pressure. They help each other read, which is exactly what I want in my community of learners.

Follow up: I ask students to pay attention to the sentences in their independent reading books. “Watch for loose or periodic sentences,” I say, “and here’s the challenge:   When you find one, write it out on a notecard, and post it on the quotes board. Let’s see how many of these beautiful sentences we can collect this week.”

And remember to write at least one loose or periodic sentence in your blog post this week. Let’s work on crafting beautiful sentences like Doerr in our own works.

Five things you can do to guarantee your students will read

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. [Books are] so endlessly delicious.”
― Ruth Reichl

I’ve spent a lot of time with the love birds my children gave me for my birthday. They are beautiful. Marianne and Colonel Brandon And scared. I made the mistake of not reading enough about them before I tried my hand at training. Now, I am having to back track just to get them to like me. I knew better. Should have done my research.

It all starts with trust. Every day I put my hand inside the cage, hold it there, and just talk. I talk about the weather — it’s been quite tragic in north TX lately. I talk about the book their names come from — Sense and Sensibility. (My daughter dubbed them Marianne and Colonel Brandon.) I talk about how we will be the best of friends if they will just trust me.

Colonel Brandon bit my finger and held on so hard I stamped my feet for five full seconds hoping he would let go.

I’ve even tried speaking my limited Spanish. (The birds came from a Mexican vendor at an outdoor market.)

“Hola, buenos dias.”

Sitting on the floor near the cage is my school bag. In it is my conferring notebook. It holds a roster with check marks for books read and pages for each student where I record our conversations about books and reading.

This morning I was finally able to get Marianne to step up on to a perch and gently pull her from the cage. She sat on the top, eating happily on a millet twig. Progress.

I flipped through the notebook, remembering conversations I’ve had with students this fall.

“I used to love to read,” Henry told me, but then I didn’t like textbooks so I didn’t read anything again until 8th grade.

“What do you mean textbooks, you mean like an anthology of stories and poems and such?”

“Yes, those,” he said, “I hated those, so I just didn’t read anything in middle school. Then my teacher in 8th grade let us choose the books we wanted, and I read a ton. Hunger Games, Divergent, all those dystopian books. Then in 9th and 10th it was back to textbooks. I stopped reading.”

Henry was a hard sell at first. I’d already set up the routines in my reader’s workshop classroom. He missed the read arounds, the notebook set up, the initial book talks with the titles I know students love every year. And just like with my birds, I started wrong with Henry.

I expected him to step up without question into our reading world. He didn’t.

I had to back track and build some trust. I’d do a book talk and then set the book not far from him. I’d talk to other students about their reading near enough so Henry could hear. I’d ask Henry questions and I’d listen to his answers, so he would know I cared about him as a person more than as a reader.

And Henry started reading.

Henry has read four books since September when he joined my class:  Article 5, Friday Night Lights, Peace Like a River, and Labron James’ Dream Team.  Not bad for a young man who went two years without reading anything in 9th and 10th grade.

For any teacher who says independent reading just doesn’t work for you or your students, I issue this challenge:  Backtrack and try again.

Five things you can do to guarantee your students will read:

  1. Read. The more you read books you think your students will enjoy, the more you will be able to talk about books your students will enjoy. Don’t have a clue about YA? Read anything by Matthew Quick, A.S. King, Jandy Nelson, or John Green (my personal favorites). You’ll have a good start.
  2. Share book talks daily. Talk about books you know students love. If you don’t know titles, ask your librarian for help, read book lists like this one, read lists we’ve shared in previous posts.
  3. Show book trailers. I used to post book trailers on this blog. You’ll find many post with trailers, interviews, and other ideas here.
  4. Get students talking. The more students talk to one another about their reading the better your chances of getting all students to read. One favorite activity in my classroom is speed dating with a book.
  5. Give students time. I heard it first from Penny Kittle:  “If they aren’t reading with you, they are not reading without you.” We must give students time to read during class. Too many teachers and administrators think silent reading is not a good use of instruction time. FALSE. The only way to become a reader — or to become a better reader — is to read. If we want students to develop the habits of life-long readers, we must help them develop the habits in class where we can help them 1) stay focused, 2) learn what readers do when they get stuck, 3) practice choosing books for learning and for pleasure, 4) make plans for future reading.

 

What tips can you share for anyone who’s struggling with independent reading? Please leave your suggestions in the comments. Thanks!

 

 

The Best Lesson Series: What Makes a Work of Literature?

NTCE Affiliate Breakfast with Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year

A few weeks ago I read this post by Shanna Peebles, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, “Building Bridges with Visual Literacy.” She writes about her lesson in the book The Best Lesson Series, a book in which I also contributed a favorite lesson. Shana includes the background of her lesson, an experience and a realization she had when she began working with refugee students many years ago.

Reading Shana’s blog, I reflected on my own refugee students. Mine come from Myanmar, most having walked through Thailand at night holding the hands of younger siblings while moving toward their fathers who left their villages months before to secure passage for their families. These children grew up fast and they hope for much. They study hard because they know the value of education.

They represent the reason that I teach literacy: It is through literacy that we gain power.

The way to grow as literate individuals is to read. I’ve heard my mentors say it again and again: “The only way to develop readers is to get them reading” and “The only way to learn to read is to, well, read.”

Of course, the same holds true for writing.

The lesson I contributed to The Best Lesson Series pertains to both. Here’s the background of my lesson:

I am not one of those readers who jumps to the last few pages to read how a book ends before I have ever started it. I do not understand those people. At all. I like to savor a good book, take it slow — sip the beauty as I breathe in the language, sigh with pleasure as I see how the words work to shape meaning. Or, I like to devour a book in one sitting, curled up on the couch, holding my breath and gasping for more. So, it’s a little surprising that I pulled the last paragraph of a book to use as a craft study.

I promise it gives nothing away. I also promise:  You may just shudder at the loveliness of the language like I do. Or not. Seems some critics panned The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt while others raved about its uniqueness and style (See the Vanity Fair article “It’s Tartt, But Is It Art?. Of course, critics cannot seem to agree on what makes a text literature either. (See the Harper’s Magazine article “What Is Literature? In Defense of the Canon”.)

The author of the article about Tartt’s work poses the same question I ask my students to ponder each year:  What makes a work of literature, and who gets to decide?

Since mine is a workshop classroom where our primary focus is writing, students choose the books they read. That is not to say we do not read high-quality complex literature or read literature as a whole class. We read many passages together and learn skills that students then apply to their independent reading and the novels they discuss in book clubs four times a year.

My goal with books is to develop readers, and too many of my students did not read when I made all the decisions about their reading. However, many of my students do not know how to choose books they might enjoy or books with enough complexity to challenge their thinking. The drive to fulfill my goal to develop readers becomes multifaceted. Allowing choice means I must constantly be on the lookout for richly written passages that we can study, and I must read volumes of high-quality literature, YA and adult alike, so that I may match my adolescent readers with good books.

I love the last paragraph of The Goldfinch because I can use it for several learning opportunities. This short passage can teach us much about what makes a work of literature. I agree with researcher and reading theorist Louise Rosenblatt:  “Students need to be helped to have personally satisfying and personally meaningful transactions with literature. Then they will develop the habit of turning to literature for the pleasures and insights it offers.”

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  We help our students love literature so they learn from it as we do.

____________________________________________________________________________________

It’s an honor to be a part of this work. I am surrounded by inspiring educators with intriguing and thought-provoking ideas, and I hope you will consider adding this title to your professional library so you will be surrounded, too.

Teachers sharing with teachers what works. That’s the best pd I know.

benefits of best lesson series

 

 

Mini-Lesson Monday: Learning Concrete Details with Independent Reading

More than any other writing, I love reading my students’ narratives. We start the year with narrative for many reasons, but my favorite is that I get to know my students faster than I can get to know them during one-on-one reading conferences or during group activities and discussions.

Here’s a short list of what I’ve learned from student stories just this week:

  • several of my male students wish they had a father who showed interest in their lives
  • a few of my girls live with their fathers because of their mothers’ poor choices
  • several boys and girls journeyed long and far, walking miles through jungles, so their families could escape oppression, rape, and murder
  • many of my teenagers have experienced heartache because of love interests, friends, and family members
  • a few are still grieving the loss of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends who died from suicide
  • at least one young woman still holds anger toward her mom because of the way she handled a brother’s addiction and abuse

Personal and powerful, all of these stories matter. My goal as a writing teacher is to help my writers harness the words so emotion reigns in the heart of the reader. The problem?

Abstract language.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels: Show understanding of the terms abstract vs. concrete; in your independent reading books, identify concrete details and figurative language; analyze the effectiveness of the author’s language; revise your writing to include fresh concrete details and figurative language as you create a text that evokes powerful emotions.


Lesson
— Before the mini-lesson, students have already drafted a few pieces, narratives or poems. I abstractconcreteusually do the mini-lesson after silent reading time, but for this lesson I begin before because I want to give students a specific purpose for reading.

First, I write on the board ABSTRACT and CONCRETE and we review what these terms mean when it comes to writing. I try to use only abstract words as they begin to discuss this with me.

“Awesome, you might get it,”

“Wonderful, I think you know what I mean,”

“Hey, that’s pretty good…”

Eventually, they will pick up on what I’m doing, and we make a list of abstract words. Then I give each table-group a word and challenge them to come up with a concrete description that shows us that abstract word. They get 1-2 minutes, and then we share out as I write the concrete details on the board. We discuss the difference in how an author can create emotion.

Next, I ask students to pay attention to the concrete details in the book they are reading, and I give them each a sticky note. “As you read today find at least one sentence where the author does something really clever with concrete details and/or figurative language,” I say.

Students read for 15 minutes, pen in hand, paying particular attention to the author’s craft. When time is up, I ask students to share their sentence in small groups and to analyze the effectiveness of the author’s word choice.

AllieTate“Think about what he’s trying to do there. Why did he mention the color of the sweater, or the smell of the breeze?” If they feel like the author’s accomplished creating emotion, they put the sticky on the board (or as in the photo here –poster).

Students need to not only recognize the details and know that they create some kind of imagery, they need to think about how effective the word choice is for what the author is doing at that moment in the story. If I can get them to start thinking about this, I can get them to begin making purposeful choices in their own writing.

Next, I ask students to search their own writing for concrete details that create images and to add a lot more. “Where can you add a phrase or line similar to what you found in the book you are reading? Is there somewhere you can add color or shape or texture?”

And we revise.

Follow-Up — When students immediately apply learning we’ve practiced using their personal reading materials, they begin to see the connections between becoming active readers and purposeful writers. This is the kind of lesson I do again and again with a different literary or grammar skills students to master. Next up:  subordinating conjunctions.

A few lines from students’ published narratives:

“Each body turned to watch as the green army, blurry, entered the gate. The ground only knew sadness and the sky transformed into a dark night, roaming like a lion.” –Tha Sung

“My first impression when I met Lucila:  petite, chunky, short red-velvet hair, wearing a sweater that covered her sins, mysterious face with a sealed silent mouth.” –Karina Rangel

“My brothers slept like angels with devilish grins.” –Geovanni Medina

Mini-Lesson Monday: Sentence Boundaries and Adding Some Variety

Sorry, I forgot to record the book’s title.

Even the students in my AP English class struggle with correct punctuation and varying their sentences. In one-on-one conferences, I’ve started to remind them more often to pay attention to how the author of their self-selected books craft meaning. I used to get glossy-eyed blank stares, but students are beginning to understand that writers make intentional moves to draw us in, and keep us within, the pages of their books.

“As a writer, you must do that, too,” I remind them.

This lesson grew out of a conferring conversation with a student who told me:  “I just do not understand all the comma and semicolon stuff, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want to say in my writing.”

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will recognize the sentence boundaries and the variety of sentence structures in their self-selected books. They will make observations about the author’s use of punctuation in these sentences, assessing the writer’s effectiveness in crafting meaning. Students will then use their author as a mentor as they apply their knowledge of sentence boundaries and sentence variety and create, revise, and rewrite sentences in their own pieces of writing. Finally, through peer-to-peer conferring, students will evaluate the accuracy and effectiveness of one another’s sentences.

Lesson:  Every student needs their independent reading book. If a student is reading a book of poems, or a graphic novel without many sentences, you will want to supply a stand in book for this lesson or ask the student to find a book she’s previously read.

Tell students that you’ve noticed in their writing that they are ready to make their sentences more sophisticated. Correctness is one way to do this. Varying the length of sentences is another way. Instruct students to turn to a random page in their books, say page 51. Ask them to read the page in search of one long sentence and one short sentence. Give students sentence stips or blank paper and have them write out the sentences they find in their books. They should spell and punctuate the sentences exactly like the author does.

sentence boundaries lessonNext, in small groups, ask students to discuss with one another the structure of the sentences. They might put all the short sentences together and compare them. Then they might put the long sentences together and look at how the authors use commas to separate ideas. Some students will know more about grammatical terms than others, and that is okay. The idea is to get students noticing how writers compose within the boundaries of standard English and to get them to understand how punctuation works to craft meaning. Ask questions that help them discover why boundaries and variety work to produce effective writing.

You may choose to have students imitate the sentences they chose from their books. Imitation is a useful tool for many writers.

Using self-selected books, not just to practice wide reading, but to teach students to read like writers, adds an important element to the workshop classroom. Our writing improves when we take the time to notice and apply the skills of professional writers.

Follow up:  Have students review a piece of their own writing. The writing can be in any stage of the writing process. They should study their writing to evaluate their use of sentence boundaries and variety. Encourage students to revise their writing as necessary, remembering to use the author of their books as their mentors.

Extension:  This lesson works to have students study leads, similar to what Jackie wrote about in the mini-lesson Pick up Lines and Leads. It also works to have students search their books for sentences that include imagery.

 

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

#FridayReads I Want All My Students to Experience This Kind of Reading

I’m always a bit nervous about how to introduce the volume of reading we will do in my AP Language class. Although students have heard that AP is “hard,” they don’t really know what that means until they start to see some of the texts they must read, understand, unpack, and analyze.

The biggest problem with all this reading:  most 16-year-olds are not readers. At least not when they come to me. (They do change.) Somewhere along their educational journey, the love of reading has gone by the wayside. Most tell me in our very first conference that they used to love to read. Few can tell with any specificity why they stopped. (I have my own theories.)

I’m constantly thinking of ways to help my readers fall in love again. If students are not reading, they are not growing as readers. It’s pretty simple logic.

And frankly, I want to live in a community of people who read. My current students will live on my street, work in the shops I patron, send their kids to my new grandson’s school. I want to be surrounded by families who enjoy literate lives because their lives will rub shoulders with mine.

Literature could change the world if we let it — if more people read it.

If we encourage what Louise Rosenblatt calls a sense of emotion, an aesthetic experience, in our young people, more of them would read. Rosenblatt explains how our readers need transactional experiences with the books they read:

“The transaction involving a reader and a printed text … can be viewed as an event occurring at a particular time in a particular environment at a particular moment in the life history of the reader. The transaction will involve not only the past experience but also the present state and present interests or preoccupations of the reader.” It’s like the letters on the page come to life, and the meaning of the words dance into the reader’s mind and heart. She has an experience with the text that remains long after she closes the book.

I want all of my students to experience this kind of reading.

novels in verse 1So the first week of school I opened packages. Thanks to Donors Choose I had package after package arrive at my classroom. Each packaged filled with brand new novels for my brand new students. Most of them novels in verse — a powerful gateway back into reading with next to no stress. Few words on the page, and engaging story, vivid word choice, and a storyline brimming with emotion.

I book talked Chasing Brooklyn. It found a home in eager hands, as did To Be Perfectly Honest, The Crossover, Like Water on Stone,  My Book of Life by Angel, and many more.

If you’d like to build your Poetry shelf, or just add novels in verse to your classroom library, here’s a sampling of the books sweet donors gifted our classroom with this fall:

Like Water on Stone

The girl in the Mirror: A Novel

Audacity

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling

The Red Pencil

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

Perfect

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

To Be Perfectly Honest: A Novel Based on an Untrue Story

What My Mother Doesn’t Know

The Simple Gift

The Secret of Me: A Novel in Verse

The Crossover

One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies

Every You, Every Me

Brown Girl Dreaming

I Heart You, You Haunt Me

Sold

Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall

Love, Ghosts, and Facial Hair

All the Broken Pieces

Geography of a Girl

Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?

(Note:  Shana’s the expert on building a classroom library by getting donations. Read about how she does it here. She’s got more ideas than just Donor’s Choose for books.)

Share your ideas on helping students have personal and meaningful experiences while reading…

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

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

IMG_20140903_204732

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?

Behind Barbed Wires

sticker,375x360.u1In honor of the recent Holocaust Remembrance Day, I find it befitting to share Room 382’s shelf comprised of pieces in which those, who experienced the nightmare, share their stories.  Each piece on this shelf is dedicated to bringing awareness, and hopefully shed light on how history truly can repeat itself, if we do not prevent it.

While this shelf hosts stories of tragedy, suffering, and insurmountable pain and loss; it serves a purpose. Aside from the devastating, these pieces share with us the true essence of humanity.  Often, this is the first time students are diving into this 80-year-old genocide and trying to make sense of it. Many times we can’t; and other times we are able to connect over the beauty that surfaced. It’s all very complex.

Elie Wiesel’s story (and bravery) is shared via his trilogy starting with Night then moving us through Dawn and eventually through the Day.  See what he did here?

Anne Frank shares her experience as a young woman budding into adolescence in a time where her beautiful spirit defeated the confines of her attic.  Various types of literature have been compiled so IMG_20150424_083609students (and all readers) can experience Anne’s story in various ways: her published diary, actual footage restored via the Anne Frank House (a gift from a friend’s visit to Amsterdam), the play, and many others.

Maus, an incredible two-part graphic novel, utilizes the “Cat and Mouse” metaphor to portray the Nazis
vs. the Jews during the Holocaust.  This two part series is detailed and brings to life the realities of the inner workings; the emotional turmoil yet amazing perseverance of those living through this moment in history.

Those are three pieces among many.  There are books here (and ones that are currently signed out) that chronicle voices of the children of the Holocaust, novels that use real-life situations yet tell a fictional story, perspectives from a Nazi’s Jewish wife, the bravery of a journalist who swapped places with a Jew to ultimately expose the hidden…

Students are typically surprised, fascinated, uncertain, saddened and sometimes hesitant when it comes to this shelf.  Understandably.  This shelf asks us to inquire and then sit with our findings.  Yet, the conversations and rich discussions that float around this shelf are beautiful; truly beautiful and strengthen our understanding of what it truly means to be human.

 

 

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