Tag Archives: student choice

#FridayReads: Some of the Classics


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?


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.



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.


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!


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.     


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?


Guest Post: Changing the Reading Culture in Our School One Book at a Time

Both Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher have transformed my thinking as a high school literacy coach.  As a former elementary school teacher, I had always used reading/writing workshop, literature circles, and choice in my classroom.  When I transitioned to being a reading specialist/literacy coach in a high school, I really struggled with the whole class novel approach.  It didn’t work for me with the little ones and I saw more and more of my students struggle with it at the high school level.  Attending workshops offered by Gallagher and Kittle, along with reading everything they have written has given me the reassurance and the research that this approach CAN work in a high school.  Here is what has happened at my high school in just six months:


More and more teachers are trying it…

It all starts with one teacher and the support of a department chair.  Last spring after sharing what I learned at Penny Kittle’s Book Love workshop, one teacher decided to drop everything he has been doing in English and take on the “Book Love” approach.  He had so much success getting students to actually read books and improve their writing that two other teachers decided to jump in second term and teach English through choice and mentor texts.  The results were astounding. Word spread at lunch and in our PLCs – students were engaged and excited to come to English class.  Then at the beginning of term three, we had four more teachers jump in.  I am not sure if it was the “positive peer pressure” or hearing about students’ engagement, but little by little teachers have been asking about how to structure their classes in a way to make this work.


Teachers are reading more and talking about books…

At times during lunch teachers used to vent about the struggles they had motivating students to complete the reading from the previous evening, or how students bombed the reading check, but now the conversations are about books. We are talking about what we are reading, what our students are reading, what mentor texts we are using, and what changes we see in our classrooms.

Thanks to one teacher’s organization and determination, staff members are swapping rooms once a week and book-talking to students that they don’t teach.  The other day the principal’s secretary came in to our freshman class and book talked The DaVinci Code.  After she left, I saw that several students had added that book to their to-read list.

None of this would even be possible if our teachers weren’t willing to read new books.  Teachers are setting their own reading goals, keeping to-read lists, creating book trailers, etc.  For the past two years we have had “I am Reading” posters outside of our classroom doors, but this is the first year teachers are updating their posters more often and students are noticing the books.


Our library is busier than ever before…

We have a beautiful library that has a lot of books that just didn’t get checked out.  This year that has changed.  Last year from August until the end of February, only 4821 books were checked out and 63 books were placed on hold.  This year in the same time period 7333 books have been checked out and 137 books were placed on hold.  That is over 2500 more books being checked out and 74 more books being asked to be held.  Why the change?  Student choice!

Students now come to the library with a purpose.  They have a to-read list (some that are pages long) and if all the books they want are checked out, they can give us a good idea of what they want to read next.  As one of our English teachers told me, “They are thoughtful about what they are looking for if they go to the library.”  He doesn’t worry anymore about students going up to the library trying to “leave class” or “waste time.” Another teacher shared how his students “know their favorite authors and/or recognize titles that have been book-talked.”  They are talking to each other about books and recommending new titles to each other.  They are even checking out 2-3 books at a time.

Our library staff is also trying hard to find ways to get books in our students hands.  Our librarian has shared ARCs with classes and spends time in the classrooms promoting tons of books – the new ones and some of the oldies but goodies that haven’t been checked out in a while. The staff has started creating competitions each month to encourage students to read (Abe Lincoln Award voting, March Madness book bracket challenge, etc) new books.  The library is no longer just a place for students to come and get homework done.


Students are reading….

They really are reading and not just the “YA” books that naysayers worry about.  Prior to taking this approach, students came into classes either as students who read all the time (1-2), students who only read assigned books, students who fake read assigned books, and students who didn’t even try fake reading the assigned books.  As one teacher pointed out to me, “As soon as choice became an option, reading, for the vast majority of the students, became fun again!”  They began forming a reading habit that had been lost so long ago.

The issue is no longer trying to get students to read anything. They are reading more consistently than ever before.   Instead of dealing with them reading zero pages in a week, teachers are finding ways to increase student stamina from 50 to 150 pages in a week. That in itself is a huge success.  Students come to class early and start reading their books.  They can even be found reading as they walk down the halls. One boy almost knocked over an upperclassman in his attempt to finish the chapter of his book.  Once a week I co-teach in a freshman English class.  Of those twenty-one students, I think only two students have finished three books.  The rest have read an average of six books in nine weeks (snow days and all). Instead of worrying how to encourage our students to read common texts and pass the reading checks, the challenge is having enough books that interest all of our readers.

Our students ARE challenging themselves – reading more, picking nonfiction, moving up the reading ladder, and trying new genres based on what others have recommended to them. I had one boy in my homeroom start with Hatchet by Gary Paulsen in January and stretched and read Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden for book two.  It was definitely challenging for him, but he didn’t give up on it and was so proud when he finished it.  Other teachers are finding the same thing – students are willingly picking up books from Fitzgerald or Vonnegut, or Hemingway and are able to have real conversations about these books from their perspectives. Students are talking about books with each other AND coming up to teachers and discussing books with them. Because of the location of my office (the library), I tend to do book talks quite often when kids come upstairs and are looking for something new to read.  One of my favorite memories from this winter was a girl who had seen my Goodreads list and made her to-read list off of some of my favorites.  After she finished To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, she asked her teacher if she could come find me and talk with me about it.  She had loved it so much and wanted to thank me for introducing her to that book.These students aren’t afraid of looking smart or nerdy – they are proud.


The culture is changing…

Students are now immersed in books wherever they turn.  Between our March Madness Book Bracket challenge, I am Reading posters, Classroom Reading Trees, the Health class independent reading project, random teacher book-talks, etc. students are reading more than ever before.

Melissa Sethna @msethna23 is a high school literacy coach in Mundelein, IL. She has always had a passion for books, technology, and working with adults. In her free time, she loves to read.  She’s a strong believer in book choice and sharing her joy of literature with her family and students. She says, “I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without my reading heroes: Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers, Bob Probst, and Donalyn Miller — who inspire me to take risks, and I try to encourage others to do the same.”

Beyond These Four Walls

Believe it or not, there is an actual term called ‘seat time’.  Yes – states, the national government, school boards, and the rest of ’em, refer to the amount of time a student needs to be learning as “the time they spend in their seats.”  So, we create spaces where students feel safe, comfortable, and willing to risk as we maneuver around this idea of ‘seat time’ because really, who wants to be in a seat for hours upon hours a day?

We move furniture around and engage in Sky Writing (writing on the windows), we use bright colors to liven the spot up and throw rugs on the floor, we use wind chimes and zen gardens to channel our collective inner peace.  I love all of this.  I do.  Because our classrooms are our homes away from home, we invest in them.  For students, sometimes it’s their only home.

Until now.

This year I’m taking the show on the road.  And by show, I obviously mean the Reading Writing Workshop…because I wouldn’t stay home or head out without it.

I’m not alone in this vein of thought.

Amy has gently drenched us with her new found love for teaching poetry; inclusive of strategies, techniques, and student buy-in that emerged for her this summer at Frost Place.  Shana (and her hubby) have taken us to England where we virtually toured historically majestic places where remarkable literaries once stepped foot.  And, Jackie has provided us the opportunity to be audience members through Poetry Out Loud as we envision the poetic brilliance eminating from our New England youth.

Thank you, ladies.  I’d like to return the favor.


Welcome to the streets of NYC where students and I take on the challenge of reading throughout the entire day ‘outside of seat time’!

We know, educating our youth is a collective effort – always.  Therefore when my principal afforded our students the opportunity to purchase books of their choosing, he envisioned handing them their individual gift cards and letting them be on their way.  While this is lovely and most definitely appreciated, I needed to be part of the process with our emerging and evolving readers.

This journey needed to be a collective.


Our ‘seat time’ for the day!

The goal was to ensure that the day was full of all things literature – from the moment we left the building.  So, as students and I bundled up to head out into the winter cold, we locked the door to Room 382 with metrocards in hand, Writer’s Notebooks in tow, and independent reading books tucked into our bags.  While enroute to the four-story Barnes and Noble located in the heart of Union Square, the NYC subway became our independent reading haven.  Students were aghast at first to know that I was serious about reading, not only on the train…but in public.  Yet, once reality set in, one-by-one books started to surface.  Students started to seep into their pieces and some decided to (unconsciously) ignore the fifteen minute benchmark; they found their time on the subway to be soothed by the lull of everyday noises that so typically distract them.  Today is different.

Today we are readers.  Public readers.

On the hunt for literature

On the hunt for literature

As we arrived at our destination, students were given a lay of the land and had the opportunity to go explore.  I learned a lot in that moment, and in the moments to follow.  I learned that while working with students for five months now, I still do not know all of their literary interests…or that some prefer to read graffitti art books because they are fueled by creativity…or that some have been intrigued by forensics since they started the course about a month ago – and so of course – they want to read up on it…or that graphic novels are still at the core of young men’s desire to read.  As students traveled up and down escalators to find what they were looking for I was proud of their willingness to take on an adventure that had the potential to be wildly overwhelming.


Weeks later, back in Room 382 and in true RWW form, we took to our Writer’s Notebooks and students were asked to chronicle a vivid moment in their lives.  What you are about to read took my breath away, literally.

A vivid moment comes to life...

A vivid moment comes to life…

Davon decided to chronicle this moment:

The first time I went to Barnes and Noble it shocked me a lot. I didn’t even know what Barnes and Noble was intill I got there with my teacher and classmates.  When we got there and I realized it was a book store, I was shocked.  I started feeling all types of bad feelings running threw my body.  I was nervous and had butterflys in my stomach.  Seeing all the people at different book shelf’s in there made me feel like I didn’t have no business being there.The fact that everyone looked like they knew what they were doing and looking for, made me just want to stay out of everyone way and get out of there.  


Davon in deep thought


Davon’s honesty is brave.  And from the looks of it he managed just fine. Better than fine.  He found a piece that would keep him company over the holiday break, that would fuel his imagination, and that would support him in his literacy quest.  A piece he is calling his own.

Using our ‘seat time’ in the most unconventional ways proves that as educators, we know how to support the needs of our students. Sometimes we borrow strategies and ask for guidance, but innately we know what each new group of students needs.  Sometimes it takes a minute to figure it out or customize differentiated plans to make it work.  However, I propose that instead of always rearranging our seating chart or window decals or placement of colored pens…we need to bust out of the four walls in which we learn everyday and let the RWW guide us through the wonders just outside.

In what ways do you foster student learning through the RWW outside of your classroom walls?

All it Takes is a Tutu and Some Focus


It’s been a month since I realized that my 2014-2015 school year was going to throw me for loops, spins, twists and twirls.  And while I am by no means a self-proclaimed ballerina; I’m smiling, pointing my toes, and pirouetting with the best of ’em.  Because when the music starts the core needs to be strong, the back straight, muscles tight, and breath steady.

As I stretch daily, as all practicing and proficient ballerinas do, I prepare to move in ways that are brand new; ways in which I never thought my body knew how to.  Legs outstretched, arms over extended, and of course…hair tightly wrapped in a bun – not one hair out of place.  Grace and elegance: the aspiration of all ballerinas.

Ballerinas and educators.

And while ballerinas make their every move seem effortless, the reality is that every motion is executed with deep thought and delivered with exact precision.  The bar is set wildly high and only the best of the best can gently thrust their leg onto that bar as fingertips reach for and surpass beautifully pointed toes while bodies align with a diagonally extended leg.

But, what about the ballerinas who approach the bar with a “Hrmph!” and a stubborn knee that won’t align with the rest of the leg and an unmaintained balance as a ‘steady’ foot is anything but?  And that sleek bun?  That bun has come undone and wisps of hair are continually getting caught on eye lashes and tickling cheekbones refusing to cooperate.  And no, you cannot move your hands from First Position for a moment’s reprieve.


When we continue to throw on our tutus and ballet slippers and head straight into the studio before the sun has risen from its slumber: We are not giving up.  We are wrapping our bruised and bleeding toes accompanied by “Ouch!” and “Arghh!” but, we are not giving up.  We are placing even more bobby pins in our hair in hopes that today will be the day we are not tempted to twitch out of First Position.  Today, we stretch just a wee bit further in reaching for our little nubby toes.

As we wiggle and wobble…biting our lower lip oblivious to this false stability…we realize that our calloused hands are resting on those little nubs we’ve so desperately been trying to reach for weeks.  Yes, we are now touching our toes.  Wait.  What?  We did it?

I want to show you something.

Amazing isn’t it?  A young man in my Social Justice and Student Voice course was not willing to explore his 35-60 word biography (modeled after Visa Go World commercials) as it applied to his life.  But, he was willing to explore a puzzling injustice that he firmly believes has a feasible solution.  And his questions.  I could most definitely learn how to shape Essential Questions by conversing with this young man.

I’m still aiming for balance.

My knees are still a little bent.  My tutu is sometimes on backwards.  But, there’s hope!  While the majority of students were actively engaged in chronicling a moment in their lives, one student decided he needed to do things his way: focused, dedicated, and with a little pizzazz.  Is that not what the art of ballet truly encompasses?

As I continue to learn the intricacies of this art form, I take pleasure in exposing students to it as well.  We dance together…sometimes in beautiful unison and well, let’s face it, other times as if we’re all petit sauting to a different tune.  That day, this tenacious student decided to wear sneakers to ballet practice.  And, I’m so glad he did.










Authentic Work

Last week I had the privilege of visiting several elementary school campuses around my area. It is always neat to go and see what other schools and other districts are doing. This time, all of the campuses I visited were elementary schools, and there is no question that elementary schools love to show student work. One thing that struck me as interesting was the types of work that I saw displayed. Take a look at these two images:


photo 1EXHIBIT Bphoto 2



What do you notice about the two displays of student work? Any similarities? any differences?

The biggest thing that stuck out to me was that in Exhibit A, all of the student work looked exactly the same. I know you can’t read the text under each elephant, but it too was essentially the same on every page. I will disclose that Exhibit A was done by kindergarteners and Exhibit B was done by second graders, but still. Are you honestly telling me that kindergarteners, if given the opportunity, wouldn’t have come up with a more creative way to demonstrate their understanding about elephants?

Another question I had was what do the state standards say about elephants specifically? Does everyone have to learn about elephants? (The answer to that is NO!) What if a student wanted to learn about monkeys instead? Clearly, in this scenario, students were not given the choice in deciding what they would study.

Now, look at Exhibit B. If you can’t tell, the students are learning about perimeter and area. Some of the students chose to demonstrate their understanding of perimeter and area by marking off their foot print while others wrote out their names in block letters and then calculated the perimeter and area of their names. In this case, students had choice about how they would demonstrate mastery of the skill being taught.

Think about it this way, if the work in the pictures above were a depiction of work in say a high school English classroom, I would equate Exhibit A to the whole class novel where everyone has to read the same book and write the same essay over the same prompt. Whereas, Exhibit B would be reflective of the work that my co-blogger and friend Amy has been writing about in her posts lately as she has empowered her students to read whatever books they want. Amy hasn’t given up the content and the standards she has to teach. She has just allowed the students choice in what they read and how they show their understanding of that content and the skills they have learned.

What about in your own classroom? Is there anything that you ask students to do that looks more like Exhibit A than Exhibit B? How might you change or modify the assignments to allow students a choice on how they want to demonstrate understanding of a particular topic?

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