Fitting It All In: The Think-Aloud Book Talk Combo

One of the questions I often hear about the workshop model (and truth: that I have often had myself) is how do I fit it all in?

We are “supposed to do” quick writes, independent reading, notebook work, small group discussion, whole-class discussion, think-alouds, read-alouds, writing along with students, conferring, anchor charts, building writing stamina . . . the list goes on.

Oh, and we need to do that while mastering assessment literacy, fostering positive relationships with students, offering timely and relevant feedback, developing units beginning with the end in mind, finding time to do our personal reading and writing, participating in our PLNs, developing collegiality with our coworkers, and staying current with our own professional development and practices.

It’s overwhelming to look at the list of “musts” and think that teachers are expected to do it all. The good part is that we don’t have to do it all every day. However, there are two things I find non-negotiable on a daily basis.

One of the non-negotiables is time in class for independent reading.

We do this every class period after the book talk. It’s predictable to my students that I will say “If either of these books sound like something you’d like to read, put them on your next reads list.” And then they start their silent reading.

book talk lists

The above exchange between teacher and students implies that we always have book talks, and that is in fact the case. But I find that book talks take more time than I want to take when I do them justice . . . three to five minutes can go by fast. I tried to speed them up, but I felt less engagement from my students, and fewer books were being checked out. So then I decided that instead of speeding it up, I’d try to incorporate some other “musts” into the book talk time, thereby getting “more bang for my buck” when I spend important class time.

I decided to try doing a cold read-aloud/think aloud as a book talk, sharing my thinking, questions, connections, and wonderings as I read the inside flap, discussed the cover, and read the first paragraph or so aloud.

I started with statements like, “I picked up this book because the cover caught my eye, and I don’t know anything about this book.” Or, “I am wondering about this book because I know it’s written by an award-winning author, and I’d like to know more.” Then I would deconstruct the cover, noting any awards and/or endorsements it might mention on the front or back cover, along with graphics, pictures, and blurbs.

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Then I opened to the title page, checked the publication date, talked about the implications of the time during which it was published, mentioned any dedications, forwards, prologues, and prefaces.

1421 mapCharacter lists, timelines, family trees, and maps are also useful to talk to students about, and I would share my thinking as I went through these pages. (This is where the document camera is handy – projecting a larger image of some of these pages is quite helpful.)

 

 

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I read the first few paragraphs of Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brian recently. I was able to explain to my students that while I know the author, I am not familiar with this particular text. I talked about what I know about the National Book Award since it is mentioned on the cover. I essentially just talked about what I can learn from the title, author, and cover before I even open the book.

My students liked the vulnerability I showed because I honestly didn’t know everything I should know about the book. But the exercise helped them to understand that they don’t need to know everything when picking out books, and that it’s okay to ask questions, be unsure, and to take risks.

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 6.17.12 PMAnother title I picked up was In the Long Run by Jim Axelrod. No one had picked it from the shelf all year, and it still sat there as a brand new book. I asked students what the cover could tell us, and we started to guess that it could be about marathons, cross-country running, or anything else. They didn’t realize that Axelrod is a journalist, but as we read the back cover together, we learned a lot. I had a student take it and read it that day.

Developing lesson plans has to be prioritized because the reality is that the kids will show up every day. When we prioritize book talks, we usually think we need to get ready for them, to prepare for them in advance. I assert that it’s not necessarily true each time we share books with our students.

It’s why I think the cold read-aloud/book talk combo is useful. Students have a window into the thinking of a “master reader” as we choose books and talk about them authentically.

***My one caution is that as teachers, we have to know a little bit about the book we are reading from (being careful not to learn too much in advance in order to stay authentic). But I will admit I recently had a small embarrassing mishap when reading the first few paragraphs of So Anyway . . . by John Cleese. Be forewarned.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the world to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

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Reading Partnerships instead of Book Clubs – Using CommonLit in the Classroom

I tend to get a bit reflective toward the end of the school year. Somehow, even with the fast pace of trying to fit everything in, my mind starts to think about what I wish I would have made time to do with my students. This year, the answer is that I wish we had read more short stories together.

They read a ton of novels for independent reading, read classics and books in verse for book clubs, and we read a lot of poetry together as a class. They read several nonfiction essays, magazine articles, and books, but we did not have a big focus on short stories.

I decided to fill this gap and use CommonLit – a website with a great selection of texts with all different themes, grade levels, and genres.

I assigned a classic ninth grade short story: The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell. I printed and made copies for my ninth grade students, told them to annotate as they read, and gave them a week to read it outside of class, bring it back, and be ready for discussion.

One of my students came in a few days later holding her annotated story and said, “Miss! This is amazing! I need more of these!”

I couldn’t have paid her to say something more timely and appropriate. I was already thinking about assigning more short stories, and she convinced me.

However, the problem with assigning more short stories was that I had found myself teaching the story rather than the reading skills and habits. I wanted to tell my students about Zaroff’s ideas about what it means to be civilized, and that they should pay attention when Whitney and Rainsford are talking about hunting when they are on the yacht. But upon reflection, I knew that it wasn’t the right way to go. I wanted my students to realized those things because they had the skills to read any story, not because I had told them what to ask or what to think.

I asked myself how I could assign classic short stories and resist teaching those stories at the same time.

One of my students answered by asking me a question. She said she liked The Most Dangerous Game, but was hoping she would have more choice in the next short story assignment. That was the breakthrough question for me. I realized I could offer choice and expect that my students would read and analyze classic short stories.

Short Story Partnerships

Because they had already found success with book clubs, this was a pretty natural thing to do, and CommonLit makes it easy.

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Texts are organized by genre, grade level, lexile, and theme. Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 4.30.57 PM

CommonLit will connect to Google Classroom, which means students can log in with their school gmail accounts. It also means that I can choose which grade level texts I want specific students to read – for a couple of my students, I went one text level band below, and assigned them a selection of stories that would be a bit more accessible to them, but still be challenging and that would provide ample opportunities for thoughtful conversation.

Their assignment was the same except for the short story options. I gave them the following options:

Thank You, Ma’am
The Monkey’s Paw
The Veldt
All Summer in a Day
The Treasure of Lemon Brown
Lamb to the Slaughter
Hearts and Hands
The Gift of the Magi

My students were told to choose four of nine texts. This meant that many of them read all of the stories before they decided to “really read” the four chosen ones (oh my happy heart!) and their choices were thoughtful and deliberate.

They were more excited to read the ones they had chosen with their partners and have returned to class talking to each other about the stories with a greater level of enthusiasm, than when I have simply assigned the same story to every student to read on the same day.

I also gave a large chunk of time for the assignment so they could budget their class time and homework time over a couple of weeks, plan to meet with their partners, and make the assignment authentic and thoughtful rather than rushed.

I think about how I used to teach any of these stories. The Most Dangerous Game, or The Necklace for example could take up to a week as I would guide them through each word, each sentence, and explain the meaning as we went along. Because my students have been given a wide range of choice over the last year or so, they have become independent readers, and can not only access these classic short stories, but appreciate and enjoy them while they are at it.

I’ve loved watching their independence blossom this spring as they tackle harder and harder texts. These are texts they often have very little background information on, but they are learning to find it themselves, use context clues, and talk to each other in their reading communities.

CommonLit has been a helpful tool as I have watched their progression.
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It functions in many ways as an online textbook, but doesn’t feel cumbersome like a  textbook can. There is a brief bio/intro with most texts, the lines are marked, and there are footnotes for difficult vocabulary. There are questions to answer as students read, and more thoughtful questions at the end of each selection.

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A Sound of Thunder Questions
from “A Sound of Thunder”

What I really like about the questions on CommonLit is the discussion questions at the end of each selection. Students don’t need to write an essay or a formal short answer; instead they prepare for discourse, for literary discussion.

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We’ve had great success with book clubs (and now story clubs) this year. I’ve loved the conversations I’ve overheard, the more “official” discussions the groups have had, and the individual conferences I’ve had with students. The classroom “talk” has been steadily increasing in quality and stamina, and our summative video discussions should be knock-out.

I’ve been so impressed with what giving students choice and voice can do. It feels intuitive after a few months of teaching like this, and not only have students developed strong independent reading lives, but now they are also able to tackle difficult, classic, canonized texts with confidence.

 

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

It’s better with Verse! Short and sweet book clubs encourage readers to try new format.

Student voice and student choice have been the priority this school year as we try to foster healthy, robust reading lives in our students. They have been introduced to many titles through plenty of book talks and book recommendations, so they know there are a ton of choices out there for them, but this level of choice also means we haven’t had too many shared texts.

This spring I thought it might be fun to squeeze in some shared texts and build up our reading community with deliberate talk about books. I wanted us to be able to finish in just a couple of weeks, so we are engaging in book clubs with books written in verse.

In keeping with the priorities of student voice and student choice, I provided many titles for students to choose from as they entered into this short unit. These are all books that we have multiple copies of and can be found in our classroom libraries.

Before spring break my students were given a little time to get to know a book they hadn’t seen before, and then share that book with a partner. It took just a couple of minutes for each exchange, and then both partners switched books and started again. After a few rounds of sharing books, I allowed students to flip through the remaining titles that had seemed interesting but they hadn’t had the chance to hear about yet.

They had handouts for note-taking during this activity, and when we were done, they put the notes in their readers/writers notebooks so they would have easy access after the break.

book club notes - verse

When we returned from spring break, students reviewed their notes and listed their top five choices. I assigned and handed out the books, putting between two and four students in each group.

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These are the titles students chose from.

The assignment was pretty straight-forward.Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 3.37.17 PM

Students were directed to annotate for the fiction and/or nonfiction signposts found in Notice and Note and in Reading Nonfiction, (depending on their titles) the Book Head Heart framework and questions found in Disrupting Thinking, and some poetry vocabulary (listed below).

After they started reading, but before they were too many pages in, a few students had questions about how to annotate a book written in verse. They had annotated other texts before, but for some reason this type of text had some obstacles. IMG_7697 2

I decided to do a quick, fun example of annotating a narrative poem with a simple children’s poem by Shel Silverstein. Cloony the Clown has many of the fiction signposts, poetic devices, and we talked about the Book Head Heart framework. Finding the signposts and annotating together was fun. It took less than fifteen minutes to share the example in class, and my students seemed much more comfortable with annotating their book club books when we were done with the activity.

Students then used their annotations to spark discussion, and regularly use them during the week to practice their sustained conversation.

They will be assessed next week in the form of a video-discussion, where they will meet in their book groups. Using iPads, they will record their thoughtful discussions, referring to annotations, making connections with the text, and sustaining academic conversation for around twenty minutes.

What I’ve heard and seen so far has been encouraging. Students are sharing, referring to lines and stanzas, and feel accomplished that they have read a complete text in such a short amount of time. Some of them are on their second or third-draft reading, which I think is a great strategy and habit to reinforce. They are truly getting to know their books, and in the process learning about story, poetry, and close reading.

Some students were able to read their book club book in an hour or two, and then get right back to their other choice reading. Others are encouraged by the progress they are quickly making in a full-length book because it often takes them longer than a few days to read most of a book. That’s one of the many great things about books written in verse – it doesn’t take a long time to read them, but they are rich with language, story, character, and they hold student interest. With the variety of types and titles, there really is something for everyone.

I borrowed an idea from this amazing post from Buffy J Hamilton regarding connecting text to the world around us. Next week, as one of the finishing activities in this short unit, students will each bring in a current event article which somehow relates to their books, and use these articles to launch new conversations about their books, connecting the text to themselves and to the world around us.

I’m pleased with the way these books clubs are progressing. My students don’t seem to feel intimidated by the length or weight of the books, and they tend to agree that the books are relevant and thought-provoking. While some of them have enjoyed books written in verse before their book clubs, for others this is one of their first experiences with a book written in verse. So for some students, this unit validates and supports their reading experience, and for others, it opens a door to a new form.

One student created this character chart from David Levithan’s The Realm of Possibility as she was reading. She did it not because it was required, but because she likes the book and wants to make sense of it.

I encourage others to try some “unconventional” types of text for book clubs. Graphic novels, short stories, and poetry collections are all ideas I’m kicking around for future book club units, and I’m wondering how other teachers have incorporated different types of texts in their classes, and encouraged new conversation. Please leave your ideas and experiences in the comments below!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Prepping for Summer Reading: Encouraging a Reading Community

In order to plan our spring break reading and practice independence for our summer reading, we brought 42 freshmen into our Learning Commons for some book talk/book speed dating.

It’s an activity that can be reproduced with any number of students and with minimal planning time. It also is an activity that elicits positive feedback from students and most importantly, gets kids reading.

We brought our students together because we prioritize regular book talks, student talk, and communities of readers.

To ensure that students were ready to engage in the activity, we provided time and structure for planning the mini-conversations about books.

speed dating books prep
On this side of their papers, students prepared for their one-minute book talks.

Students were instructed to choose a favorite book from the school year so far, bring the physical copy of the book to class that day, and be prepared to talk about it for about a minute. They were also instructed to write down questions they could ask others in case the person who was doing the “selling” of the book ran out of things to say.

The other side of their half-sheet handouts had a place for note-taking during the actual speed-dating activity.

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Students created next-reads lists during the activity.

Before we brought all of our students together, our wonderful teacher-librarian and I met to plan the activity, and she volunteered to lead it.

The students were lined up at two long tables, paired with the person across from them, so there were two tables with kids lined up on either side of both tables. (She re-created this activity later with one smaller table of sixteen students, and it worked well with that number, too.)

Mrs. Levitt gave the students a couple of minutes of instructions, and the other two teachers and I watched as the magic unfolded.

Each student was given one minute to “sell” their book, and then listened and asked questions during the second minute, when their current partner was trying to “sell” the other book. They were reminded to add to their next reads lists if the books were interesting to them, and then one side of the table stood up and moved to the left in order to find new partners. The activity moved quickly.

The student feedback after the activity was positive and enthusiastic. They liked hearing about books from each other, and felt enthused about setting some spring break reading goals. Mrs. Levitt had them make make a “reading promise” on padlet so that they would have some public accountability when they returned from spring break.

After the public promise on padlet, students set individual goals, responding to the following questions, expanding when necessary.

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Students came back from break saying things like “Miss! I read five books!” and “Miss! You have to read this book! It’s sooo good!”

I don’t think they would have the same enthusiasm if we had continued with our usual book talks and generic reading assignments. The fact that they talked to and listened to one another in a fast-paced, structured setting meant that they could later have more authentic, longer conversations about the books they had found interesting during the class activity. Students discovered new titles and authors, and developed community with one another that revolves around reading books.

They could see that all of their teachers, our teacher-librarian, and their classmates value reading, and are interested in each other’s thoughts and ideas about what makes a great read.

It was a positive experience for all of us, and it helped to set the stage for summer reading. The thing about summer reading is that it doesn’t have the built-in accountability that the school year does. It requires either self-discipline or intrinsic motivation, so the practice and encouragement over the break helped to develop “muscle memory” in that students read books even when they weren’t accountable for it the very next day. They read books that they wouldn’t normally have read, and they were able to continue talking about those new reads when they returned from the break, which also helps to build community and develop readers.

How do you plan to encourage and practice for summer reading? I’d love to hear about it in your comments.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Five Ways Your Classroom Library will Sell Itself (Without taking up valuable class time!)

Classroom libraries are essential in the workshop model, as kids who have access to books will naturally read more books. I’m beyond thrilled that my school has invested so much into our classroom libraries. Now that the books are here, it’s time to get the students to read them!

classroom library fall 17
This is what my classroom library looked like in the fall of 2017.

Book talks are an essential way for teachers and students to discover new treasures hidden in classroom libraries, but they aren’t the only way.

Speed dating, student led book talks, and book tastings are all excellent methods for students to learn about books and develop healthy next reads lists, but they all take time.

Below are five ways to “book talk” without using valuable class time:

  1. These are quick, easy to photocopy book recommendations written by students. I keep a stack of them on a shelf with the books, and as students return books they read and loved, they can choose to fill in the recommendation form. I’m sure there are more beautiful recommendation forms out there, but this is what we have, and it works.

2. Mini-whiteboards are easily changed-out, and both students and teachers can quickly feature new and different titles. It takes moments, and the written “grab” can be copied from the inside flap or the back of the book.

themed book display

3. Themed book displays are easy to curate.  All that’s necessary are a few display stands and either some mini-white boards or some heavy paper that can be switched out. I rotate my display about once a week, and sometimes my students ask me to “do a theme” with the display. I try to oblige. This one focused on humor, but anything is possible. I’ve currently got a music theme going, and it’s fun to find themed collections based on other random ideas – animals, travel, even the color of the covers. Imagination is the only limitation with this one.

 

4. We reinvented the old-school card catalogue by filling an organizing bin with book recommendations. The categories in the bin match the ones on the library shelves, and students add their recommendations as they are motivated to do so, but only after reading the books, and if they liked the title. I gave them some basic guidelines for making the cards:Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 5.29.43 PM

It takes students about five minutes to make a card, and they can even browse the “card catalog” at their desks.

 

5. The last method utilizes these frames from IKEA. They are double-sided, so on one side is a copy of the book cover, and on the other is the student recommendation.

I provided minimal guidelines for making the inserts to the frames:

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We are displaying them on our classroom conferring tables, on our book shelves, and in our school’s learning commons.

The common denominator with all of these ideas is that they are easily displayed, often student-created, and require minimal class time for students to create and use. They also get kids talking about books that they love, about their next reads lists, and about their reading lives. It’s win-win-win!

The gradual removal of scaffolding (like book talks) and the journey to independent reading lives are a couple of the major goals of workshop. Helping students build a community of readers means that they will depend on each other’s recommendations rather than those of their teachers’, and that helps us all reach the common goal of student independence. When students are encouraged to talk to each other about the books they read without the interference of the teacher, then true independence is closer than ever.

How do you encourage your students to build a reading community? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

 

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

This post was originally published on Three Teachers Talk.

Three (very) Short Videos that Inspire Students to Read

One of the key components of the workshop model is the book talk. There are many different ways of organizing and presenting the daily book talk, but the main idea is that high interest books are presented to kids each and every day. It’s our job to make sure that the books we present are relevant, challenging, and fun to read.

I’ve had students tell me in the past that the reason they became better readers was because they found out that there were so many different options for reading in our library. That the daily book talks really work!Why book talk

This is the kind of feedback that keeps me investing in book talks. It’s an investment in the reading lives of my students.

One strategy I use when giving book talks is to let someone else do the talking. Media plays such an important role with today’s students that I think utilizing it in class is a great way to meet my students where they are. So I occasionally choose to show videos instead of simply talking about the books.

Last week I shared the trailer for HBO’s Fahrenheit 451. It wasn’t a book that was flying off of my shelves, but we have several copies from our department’s book room, and no one is teaching it as a whole-class text, so it’s fair game for our classroom libraries.

After showing the trailer for the new film, four students (in one class!) took it off the shelf and started reading it. And they like it.

Fahrenheit 451 Classroom Library

I loved that I had so many available copies. My students were able to experience the “instant gratification” of getting the book into their hands immediately.

That’s not always the case with our books, even though we have an amazing, robust selection of high interest books in both our classroom libraries and in the school collection.

One of those books that is now unexpectedly in high demand is A Wrinkle in Time. The movie comes out this weekend, so I showed the trailer in order to generate interest in the book and series. I don’t think a single one of my students had picked up that book so far this year, but after showing the trailer for the movie, I now have a waiting list of four for the book, and some others who had read the book in previous years have put the rest of the series on their next reads list.

A Wrinkle in Time Book Cover

The video that created the most hype (by far!) in my classroom so far this year is this interview with Jason Reynolds. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I shared the video with my students before I had an actual copy of the book available for students. One of the complications of living internationally can be the ability to have things shipped right to our door, so it took me a while to get a physical copy of the book. I had students asking for Long Way Down for months before I got my hands on one, and there was an immediate waiting list.

Long Way Down Book Cover

So far, about a dozen of my ninth grade students have read it, and they love debating the ending of this book. It’s been a great success.

While I don’t recommend movie trailers as book talks every day, I do think they have a place in the rotation. They can be used in place of the teacher recommendation on days when teachers are out sick or when a student who has signed up for a book talk isn’t ready for some reason.

Movies can make challenging books more accessible by creating background knowledge, and interviews with the author (like the Jason Reynolds interview) create an energy that might be beyond my ability.

Encouraging and motivating my students to read high quality literature is the name of the game, and I believe that film can be a powerful gateway to a healthy reading life. If we want our students to work their way up their reading ladders, then it’s important to meet them on the steps where they currently are, and not to expect them to make immediate major leaps up to where we think they should be.

Being willing to meet kids at their level and interest empowers them to feel validated about their current reading lives, and to grow as readers, stepping up to the next rung of the ladder at the pace that makes sense for them. I believe that’s how we grow authentic, healthy, life long readers, and that using videos and film can be a useful tool in that journey.

How do you use videos in your classroom to motivate readers? I’d love to read about your strategies in the comments below.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Five Ways to Publicly Celebrate Student Reading

Once our students start reading, start setting personalized goals, and start to develop healthy reading lives, it’s important to acknowledge their progress. Big, culminating classroom celebrations are a fun way to do it, but there are also ways to celebrate that don’t take a ton of precious class time, and can mark the smaller moments worth celebrating along the way.

1. Penny Kittle encourages the book stack. Students gather the books they’ve read over the last semester, quarter, or other period of time that they’ve been reading. They stack the books up, which gives a visual representation of what they’ve accomplished with their reading. My ninth grade students recently did the book stack, and their smiles and pride were inspiring.

2. While some students loved the book stacks, I had a couple of students who had done much of their reading on e-readers, so the book stack wasn’t such a great option for them. Our solution was the digital collage. Students gathered images of their book covers and collected them on a document, creating a digital quilt or collage. They then printed them on our color printer, and we made a patchwork mural in the hall with them.

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This visual representation celebrates not only what individual students have been reading, but also serves as a hallway meeting place and inspiration for conversation about books. It’s a great way to build a reading community. Continue reading “Five Ways to Publicly Celebrate Student Reading”