Tag Archives: reluctant readers

Top Books for Reluctant High School Readers

return and talkThis summer, we’d like to return and talk about some of our most useful, engaging, or popular posts.  Today’s post, written by Jackie in 2015, shows us some great possibilities for back-to-school booktalks.

Please return to this topic and talk with us in the comments–what are some hot titles you’ll booktalk as we return to school this year?


IMG_2877“I’m not a reader.” I hear this multiple times during my first weeks of conferencing. The non-readers are easily identifiable; their body language alone speaks volumes of their disdain for books.

“You just haven’t found the right book,” I tell them, and they smirk, knowing they’ve heard that statement before.

The first week of school is a vital week of matching students with books, and while I itch to recommend titles, I hold back, giving my freshmen the independence and freedom they so desperately crave in high school. Too often students blindly accept recommendations without so much as a thought to the contents. They lack self-awareness when it comes to their reading interests or style, which is why those first two weeks are essential to not only organizing but also empowering them through choice.

Throughout the week, I book talk popular titles, engage in “speed dating” with books, and provide ample free time for students to explore our classroom library, but I also get out of their way. Instead of telling them what to read, I model ways to find a strong candidate, considering reviews, awards, contents, genres, and summaries.

While the majority of the class tends to quickly settle into their books, there are always stragglers who remain convinced they’ll never enjoy reading. These students sometimes grab the first book they see off the shelf, and oftentimes these books are too dense, difficult, or in some cases “boring.” That is okay! I settle into conferences with these students, getting to know their hobbies and eventually handing them two or three books that might pique their interest. In the end, they still choose what to read, but in the process they might require some initial guidance.

IMG_2870Regardless of who picks the book, the end result remains the same—to find a plot that envelops and consumes students, forcing them into the story. Here are some of my number one titles that tend to break down the shell of even the most reluctant readers.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I’ve already had three students read this book, one of which is Leah, a gamer and self-identified non-reader. When I asked if she has ever had a favorite book, she thought for a second then said, “I think this one might be the only book I’ve ever really liked.”

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen

Adrian initially picked a sequel to a book he read last year. “You must have liked the first one then?” I asked.

“Not really,” he replied. “I just didn’t know what else to read.” The next day he picked up The Compound, which is full of the fast-paced suspense he craves.

Paper Towns and Looking for Alaskaand basically everything by John Green.

I chased Emily up the stairs for this recommendation. When I asked her which one sparked her interest in reading, she said she couldn’t remember which had sucked her in. She just knew that despite her protestations at the beginning of the year, by the end she “loved them both.”

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

Damion had only ever loved one book and he was bound and determined not to like any in my classroom; that is until he came across this futuristic, survival story. Upon sitting down beside him for a mini-conference last year, he looked away from his book briefly to say, “Ms. Catcher, I’m at a really good part and I can’t talk right now.”

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

“I’ve had people give me ‘dark’ books before, but they aren’t dark at all,” Sarah tells me. I hand her three options, one of which is Gone Girl. Three days later she tells me, “I’ve spent my whole life hating books, and you’re the first teacher who ever found one I actually liked.”

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I book talked Unwind second this year. It’s a given crowd pleaser because of its twisted plot and graphic scenes. The fact that I only have one copy of my four originals is a testament to its popularity.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Carter claims he hasn’t read a book cover-to-cover since third grade, but he has fallen in love with Chbosky’s classic on teenage life. He said to me today, “Ms. Catcher, I love that this book talks about real things, things that are actually happening to us.”

“That book is only the beginning, Carter,” I said

What books do you recommend for reluctant readers?  Which titles are most popular in your classroom?

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#3TTWorkshop — How to Hold Students (and Ourselves) Accountable for Reading

Three educators. Three states. Three demographics. All practicing Readers and Writers Workshop in our Secondary Classrooms. Read more about us here.

We are the Modern PLC, and every Wednesday, we share our behind-the-scenes collaboration as we talk about the most urgent moving parts of our classroom pedagogy.

Reading accountability and grading our students’ reading goes hand in hand. Both are parts of a workshop classroom that can seem daunting, and sometimes we have to be flexible until we figure out what works well for our students and for us. Let’s start the conversation with accountability.

How do you hold students accountable for their reading?

Amy:  More than any other year, holding students accountable for their reading is driving me crazy. I’ve tried passing a clipboard like I learned from Penny Kittle. Many of my students cannot get their heads wrapped around a simple “Write down the page number you are on” and then “tally your reading for the week.” I see my students for half a class period on Mondays and then every other day the rest of the week. Seems if they miss the chart at the first of the week they never get it caught up.

Last year I tried an online reading chart. Each student had a page in a spreadsheet that I asked them to keep updated. I gave them a couple of minutes in class right after independent reading time. That worked a little better, but it was more difficult for me to access at a glance. I really like to get a true state of the class.

The past few weeks, I’ve started walking around on Mondays and recording page numbers myself. I decided to try this since my students were moving into book club reading. I can see if they are on target with the reading goal for their groups. It’s worked better, but this is not the kind of accountability I want to inspire in my readers. I’ve made myself the accountable one, and I am outnumbered.

Jackie: I’ve had a love-hate relationship with accountability like you, Amy.  The initial passing-around-the-clipboard method did not work for me either.  I shifted to checking individually two years ago.  I have a spreadsheet in which I enter their page numbers and reading rates on Mondays.  The spreadsheet then immediately calculates the percentage they completed and whether they fulfilled their reading rate for the week.  It isn’t a perfect system and I would much rather be conferencing with students instead of checking page numbers, but there are both pros and cons.

On the bright side, I do like checking in with every student on Mondays, and with a class of 24, it takes me about 13-15 minutes to record pages for the entire class.  The other benefit is that I also immediately know when students didn’t complete the number of pages they were capable of reading for that week.  Instead of telling them they didn’t complete the assignment though, we have a conversation about their reading overall.

Honestly, for my freshmen, this form of accountability is key.  It is less important for my AP Literature students, but I enjoy walking through the class every Monday, touching base with every student, and ultimately starting my week off by acknowledging their reading successes.

Amy:  Like you, Jackie, I do enjoy checking in with every student on Monday morning. The time is a trade off though, since I try to hold reading conferences when students are silently reading. I just don’t feel like I have the time to really talk to my students who are not getting their reading time in (That might be the crux of my frustration — I have too many students still not doing enough reading), and now meeting with each student for a longer reading conference on a regular basis takes that much longer. Seems like time eats my lunch every day.

I ask my AP Language students to read three hours a week in their self-selected books each week. Some students read voraciously, and I find these readers don’t necessarily like keeping track of the pages they read each week. I love that they read because they want to — something I hope for all my students, so I do not want to penalize them for not marking an accountability chart.

Besides just noting how many pages students read each week, what other accountability structures do you have in place?

Amy:  In our writer’s notebooks, we keep track of the books we start, abandon, and finish. We also pull vocabulary words –5 words a week — from our independent reading to put in our personal dictionaries. I know you and Shana just discussed vocab last week.

This year as another accountability piece,  I started asking students to complete an occasional reading one-pager. I have mixed feelings about this because I know the value of reading for reading’s sake, but marking the reading chart wasn’t working, and I have a difficult time conferring as often as I’d like. I also need my students to practice writing about literature. All they want to do is summarize, and the one-pager is one way to help them move beyond that.

I hope to get my students to think about accountability as self-evaluation. We talk a lot about the reason for reading:  We build fluency, acquire vocabulary, gain empathy, and learn information. “How has your reading this week helped you do that?”

Jackie: We also keep track of the books we start, abandon, and finish.  Students add to their “Books Read” list at the beginning of their writer’s notebook and they check off the books they complete.  Students also pull four words per week from their independent reading and log them in their WNB dictionaries.

Like you, I tried one pagers from Kelly Gallagher two years ago, but they were difficult to track and my strongest readers oftentimes slowed down their reading to avoid the one pagers.  I believe they can work, but I haven’t found a perfect fit just yet.  My AP Literature students do keep a critical reading journal (CRJ), which I started using this year thanks to Sheridan Steelman’s help.  Sheri is a phenomenal AP Literature teacher I met at UNH Literacy Institute.  Her structuring of CRJs has helped me gain even further insight into my AP Lit students’ needs and successes.

At the end of the day, my greatest source of information comes from the conferences I have with my students.  Students want to talk about their books, and it is a pleasure to sit beside them and learn every day.

So how do you grade your students on their reading?  

Jackie:  My school has competency based grading, so I file reading initiative grades under “formative assessments.”  I look at reading time as purely formative in the sense that it is necessary practice time for students to explore their interests while also building reading stamina.

Students in my CP Freshman English class must read two hours in their independent reading books while students in my AP Literature class must read three hours.  Each student has an individual reading rate, which they calculate and recalculate throughout the year. I adjust their reading times based on whether or not students are completing whole class or literature circle novels.  Students then receive a weekly reading initiative grade out of 20 points.  At the end of the day though, this structure is in place to help students carve out time for reading.  

One of the greatest complaints from my AP Lit students at the beginning of the year was that they didn’t have time to read anymore.  They loved it but it had been a long time since they’d picked a book on their own.  After a quarter of independent reading, Jessica said, “I love independent reading.  It gives me a break from everything” while Claudia said, “I have read more this quarter than I have in the past year.”

Amy:  I wish I didn’t have to give a grade for reading. I wish I didn’t have to give a grade for a lot of the work we do in class, but that is a topic for another day. All my little reading checks equate to a reading grade, all formative, except for a self-evaluation of their reading lives students complete about every nine weeks — that’s a summative assessment I model after a reading ladders assignment I learned from Penny Kittle.

Really, when it comes to grades, if my students show me growth and improvement, the grading is easy. It’s all about moving as readers. Eventually, most students come to realize that — and they thank me for making reading matter again.

How do you handle reading accountability and reading grades in your workshop classroom? Please add to the conversation by making a comment.

Do you have topic ideas you would like us to discuss? Please leave your requests here.

#FridayReads: Hot Non-fiction for High School Readers

I still have non-readers. We are ending the ninth week of school, and usually by this time each fall, my Hold Outs experience a shift. They start reading. I haven’t pinpointed exact reasons for the resistance this year — I think I’m doing as many book talks, conferring sessions, and cheerleading-moments-about-books that I have in the past, but something is up with a good number of my students.. They just do not want to read.

I asked Bryan about his reading yesterday. He said, “I only read when I have to.”

“What can I do to help you want to read?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

This is where it gets tough. I get to be a magician and a mind reader.

Or, I just need to know books and keep talking about them. I just need to keep encouraging my students to read and surround them with books they will find interesting.

A few weeks ago, Jackie wrote Top Books for Reluctant High School Readers, and I remembered Ready Player One, Gone Girl, and Perks of Being a Wallflower. I need to book talk those!

About two months ago, I wrote about the novels-in-verse I got for my classroom. Many of my students who had never read a book have read two, three, and four of those titles now.

I know many boys will read non-fiction when they won’t read “make believe.” Seems it’s time for an infusion of hot non-fiction books that might add some intrigue to my classroom bookshelves. I need books that students like Bryan will want to read.teen_school_boys_reading

I posed this question to my writing partners:

What are the hottest non-fiction titles in your classroom library?

Here’s our master list:

Jackie’s List

Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides

I’m Staying with my Boys by Jim Proser

Jarhead by Anthony Swofford

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood by Julie Gregory

The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea

Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides

Kick Me by Paul Feig

Shana’s List

Pretty Little Killers by Daleen Berry (two girls murdered their best friend at the other high school in our county…kids cannot put this book down)

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink (about Katrina; pairs well with Zeitoun)

Missoula by Jon Krakauer

…anything by the great sportswriter John Feinstein (The Punch, Next Man Up, A Season on the Brink)

Stiff by Mary Roach

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty (similar to Stiff; about working in a crematory)

…my War shelf, featuring Lone Survivor, American Sniper, Redeployment, or any other autobiography of a soldier

Erika’s List

Lucky by Alice Sebold (account of her rape and healing)

The Prisoner’s Wife &  Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother’s Story  both by asha bandele

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin

Inside: Life Behind Bars in America by Michael G. Santos

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison by Piper Kerman

Yummy by G.Neri (graphic novel based on a true story)

Shaq Talks Back by Shaquille O’Neal

Raising My Rainbow by Lori Duron

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (Adult and YA)

A Child Called It, The Lost Boy, The Privilege of Youth, A Man Named Dave by Dave Pelzer (four part series, but each piece can be read independently)

Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Journey to Reunite with his Mother  by Sonia Nazario

The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise & The Bond by Sampson Davis and George Jenkins

Destined to Witness: Growing up Black in Nazi Germany by Hans J. Massaquoi

Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir & Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum

Amy’s List

A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

Little Princes by Conor Grennan

Letters to My Young Brother by Harper Hill

The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo

American Sniper by Chris Kyle

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Exactly as I Am by Shaun Robinson

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Journey to Reunite with his Mother  by Sonia Nazario

Life without Limits by Nick Vujicic

Do you know of any titles we left out?

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

Everywhere You Turn

Over the last three years, our Francis Gittens Memorial Lending Library has grown literally by thousands of books.  And, it’s a beautiful sight.  One in which provides comfort, challenge, and dialogue among students and educators.  It propels interest in reading and provides options and choice; students sometimes pull up a chair and use the edge of any given shelf to rest their Writer’s Notebook while they write and find inspiration.  It’s our staple here in room 382.

But, as more and more donations come through the door, I panic: Where will they all go?!  We are currently wall-to-wall with bookshelves (many that tower over us) and the remaining space is either wall-to-wall windows or full of technology.  So, I started to utilize every open surface: our computer cart, window sills, filing cabinets, my own desk.  Now, literally everywhere you turn, your gaze lands upon books…stacks and stacks of books.

Initially I felt overwhelmed by having books everywhere; I thought it felt chaotic.  But, the perceived chaos actually provides students even more choice and an innate awareness of their surroundings. Students have started to become even more in-tune with their reading journeys and have been feeling more compelled to explore.  For more reluctant readers they have access to books without it feeling as though there is the need for any sort of grandiose gesture; trekking across the room to the wildly overwhelming library.  It’s subtle yet powerful beyond measure.  Everything is within their reach.

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Books resting on technology…

Everything.  Even our mobile technology cart full of laptops. The books on top are stacked in four piles; they are our newest additions.  Because the cart find its way across the room, near different seats, and at various different spots depending on the day; it’s equivalent to an ice cream truck making its rounds – no one is to be missed.  These piles change as the new additions continue to stream through the door.  Many students, as they are accessing the cart for a computer, find themselves pausing for a moment because a book title…or cover…or piece they realized was on their next-to-read list…has caught their attention.  I love the irony that’s often captured here when a student is simply going to return their computer, hears the bell ring, and runs to their Writer’s Notebook to jot the title down; yet forgets to put the computer back!

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Here is one of three window sills adorned with literature – and some added nature.  During the winter months in room 382 the heat tends to be unbearable (hence the cactus) which is quite unfortunate.  Yet fortunately, students like to get a breath of fresh air.  So, while doing so they find themselves multi-tasking – breathing in the fresh city air while perusing through the new titles that greet them at the window.  Many times, a lesson or writing workshop will be interrupted with, “Miss Bogdany, I found another book about XXX!”

Books decorating ugly steel surfaces...

Books decorating ugly steel surfaces…

Many students have just recently begun to proudly embrace their love for graphic novels. Typically,they believe that they’re for ‘young kids’ because of ‘all the pictures and stuff’.  I whole-heartedly disagree.  So, in the vein of supporting students’ interest in visual literacy, many are found atop an industrial filing cabinet adding color, texture, and accessibility.  Because this surface is also used for additional supplies, students access it often.  Every time they are wanting to find their zen (see butterfly book box on the top left) they happen upon literature that excites them.  Many times, the zen garden and a new book escorts them back to their seat.     

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Exhibiting my literary interests. The left stack is comprised of pieces I want to read. The ones on the right are my absolute favorites. And, the ones in the middle are a fantastic mix of professional resources, gifts, and tools.

I know students will not produce work if they are not comfortable; both physically and in feeling safe within a community.  I create a visually stimulating space at my desk because it’s what fuels my passion for all things literacy. I also know, when a student needs their own unique space, they tend to gravitate toward wherever it is that I’ve set up shop.  It has been labeled ‘their corner office’ – and yes, they get right down to business!

There are other times when I conduct 1:1 conferences and ask a student to engage in dialogue in our bright back corner.  I watch their eyes drift from their writing to the options resting atop my wooden workspace.  Students will reach across the desk to pick up a piece they have never seen there before and while I try to get their attention refocused on our conference, sometimes the book they’ve chosen is much more convincing than whatever it is I’m trying to do.  I also think some of the intrigue is that students know that what they find there are pieces I can really talk about because I’m passionate about them.

So, as the year starts coming to an end and we start thinking strategically about how we are going to start minimizing our inventory and organizing it for our summer packing; please don’t!  Keep moving things around and keeping it fresh.  Put books in places you haven’t before – students will find them trust me.  Play around with what you have displayed in your area and invite students to engage in conversation wrapped around them.  But, most importantly, enjoy these remaining few months with our inquisitive and dedicated readers as they continue to look around our learning environments and find exactly what they didn’t even know they were looking for.

Where do you keep literature aside from your library shelves?  What successes have students found when they happen upon a book in the most unlikely of places?

 

Why I Applaud The Student Who Reads Only Two Books

imageedit_5_2583117499Author, teacher, and reading-writing workshop guru Nancie Atwell recently won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. I have been a fan of Atwell’s work since I read her book In the Middle during my first year of graduate school. In fact, I was star struck two years ago when Atwell sat on the floor next to me during an NCTE workshop (note my shoulder proudly photo bombing Shana’s picture of the goddess herself). While I have subscribed to Atwell’s philosophy since I began my career in education, I was shocked to read in the media coverage that her students on average read 40 books per year.

My students do not.

Don’t get me wrong; the majority of my students read a large amount, yet while I could calculate the average, it would grossly misrepresent the true value of their accomplishments. I have some students who breathe books and complete them at breakneck speed. They add leaves to our book tree at an astonishing rate, yet admittedly not all my students are like that. By the end of the year, some have only completed two or three independent books in total. As a first year teacher (last year), I felt like I had failed these students. As far as I was concerned, the good teachers didn’t run into this problem. They only spoke about the record-breaking kids, not the ones that kept me wracking my brain for a solution. It felt like I was the only teacher who had the two-book-reader.

Last year, mine was TJ. TJ couldn’t seem to make it through a book. Many of my hesitant readers have learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders; in past classes, they have felt little success in reading whole class novels. When they arrive in my classroom they are resistant to choosing their own independent reading books. TJ was no exception; he had ADHD and struggled to focus on his reading both in and out of class. I’d watch him stare at a page for five minutes straight without being able to settle his mind and read a line. During conferences TJ discussed his book and claimed he was interested in it, yet he moved at a snail’s pace. By the end of his foray with Jarhead, I couldn’t imagine him undergoing the same tedious process with another book. I thought he’d quit. But he didn’t. Through reading conferences, daily reading time, and check-ins with his parents, I was able to help TJ develop a routine and gradually become a reader. Yet the greatest influence was TJ’s friends. Seeing so many of his peers reading on a daily basis motivated TJ to continue working towards his goals.

By the end of the year, TJ had read two independent reading books and three whole class reads, “more books than [he] had ever read before.” This was a feat arguably equal to if not mightier than some of my students who read 80 or more books. TJ developed persistence and stamina even if he couldn’t keep up with many of his peers. He was proud of his accomplishments and determined to become a better reader the following year. As a teacher, that’s what I want for my students—to push them to succeed and accomplish more than they thought they were capable of.

We all have those students (or maybe it’s still just me) but we must praise and hold these students in high esteem. We must brag about their successes and triumphs just as much as we praise the work of our highly motivated readers. After all, every book is a learning experience and an accomplishment.

Do you have a “two-book reader”? What is your story, and how did you work to motivate that student?

Reel Reading for Real Readers

ReelReading2For about two years now I’ve posted book trailers, author interviews, and a few other online resources (like the amazing Pinterest boards for The Goldfinch and Alice Bliss) as a way to help guide my students into the world of reading.

I’ve found there are two prime ways that students get interested in a book.

1. I have to love it. If I read a short passage and share my experience while reading a certain book, and students see how it made me think or made me feel, without question, at least one student asks immediately to check it out from my classroom library. Usually there’s a waiting list.

2. I have to help them “see” the book. If I show books trailers, even movie trailers, and help students visualize the story line or the characters or the action, even my struggling readers are more likely to at least give a book a try. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

I have had great success in developing readers this year, especially this year. Maybe I finally figured out how my personal passion for books can work to accelerate student interest in books. More likely it’s the time I allowed for my teens to explore the bookshelves, talk to each other about what they are reading, and the time I gave them to read. Every. Day.

My students will evaluate their reading lives next week as the last task I ask of them. They will interview each other and think about our growth as readers. I know that talking about books, showing book trailers, (and investing a lot of time and money in a phenomenal classroom library) is why I am going to smile all the while as I read their evaluations.

Reel Reading post will take a break this summer.

I’d love to hear of your successes with students and reading this year.

Reel Reading for Real Readers: Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl

ReelReading2My students and I got to participate in World Book Night April 23. The book we gave away was Me, Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. (I will write about that soon.)

This trailer gives a pretty good idea of why this book is so great:

I have several students reading it now. There’s not much better than students clamoring for the books you talk about at the beginning of class.

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