Allowing Student Choice through Book Clubs

Getting students to read nonfiction can be a challenge, but I believe that it’s important to get kids reading all kinds of texts, challenging or not. So when we started this nonfiction unit, instead of assigning one title or telling students to find their own individual titles, I decided to offer them some choice in what they read, but not total choice. And I did it through book clubs.

About a week before the official roll-out, I book talked the titles I had chosen, and asked my students write down the titles that they would be interested in reading. I included a variety of topics and structures, and I think there was something for everyone.

Some of the titles offered were Marx for Beginners, Proofiness, In Defense of Food, The Happiness Project, Eyes Wide Open, An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, and Guitar Zero.

Putting the book clubs together was a puzzling challenge. I’m not sure what the best way is – it’s all about how many copies of each book are available, and which combination of students prefers which title. It wasn’t easy, and on the day of the roll-out there were some last-minute changes, but it ended up working out.

I gave the books out during the next class period and asked students to really dig in and read for a while. This way they were able to build motivation and momentum for their at-home reading. I asked them to individually check their reading rates with their books, and then to set some realistic individual goals around how much they could and should read per week. Then I asked them to take their books home and read some more, coming to the next class ready to at least talk and think a little bit about their new books.

During the next class, I still didn’t seat them with their book group members. For their quick write, they brainstormed a list of ideas about what it means to be in a  functional book group. What kinds of agreements to group members adhere to? What sort of behaviors do book group members exhibit? Then, at their table groups, which were still not their book groups, I asked them to come to consensus about these points.

Each table group had a small white board and dry erase marker, and before they could put any ideas on the white boards, their table group members had to come to consensus that the idea was worth sticking to, and worth writing down. Once each group had a functional list of book group expectations, they could take their lists to the bigger chart that would become our book group norms.

Only after they had individually thought about what it means to be in a book club, then discussed it in a small group that wasn’t their actual book club, and then agreed as a class on these ideas, did I let them get into their new book clubs.

The reason for this was that I didn’t want anyone to start book clubs without any real thought as to what it means. I also didn’t want to tell my students how to be in a book club because I don’t think it would have “stuck” as well as when they came up with their own norms. And I didn’t want one book club member to start by dominating, or to have any new book club members sitting too quietly. I wanted to offer them as much voice and choice as I could.

The group chart paper ended up looking like this:

It’s not a complete list of book club expectations, but it’s a great start and it represents both individual and group thinking.

Once the book clubs got together, I asked them to set up their own due dates, expectations, and group norms. I asked them to think about how they want to be held accountable and how to hold each other accountable. As I rotated around the room they did not need redirection or any pushing. They had done the thinking required in order to start off on the right foot.

Class ended too soon, as usual. We will finish working on our norms next class, but they all agreed that they knew what they needed to do to get started, and were comfortable with it. Some closing comments from a few of them were about how they liked having a hand in making their own assignments and timelines, and thankfully they even look forward to reading their books.

I look forward to hearing their rich talk in the next few weeks, especially since we are starting to use the nonfiction Notice and Note signposts. 

I wonder how other teachers introduce book clubs, and how much students help in creating the learning situations surrounding book clubs. I’m sure there are other elements I haven’t considered, but I’m looking forward to the coming weeks of student learning with nonfiction.

I believe the learning experience will be richer because we started together, not with the teacher tells students what to do model, but rather in a model where students do the real thinking and planning, which creates the buy-in that is essential to learning. I can’t be the only expert in the room, and I want my students to feel empowered to listen to their own and each other’s voices, and to trust that we all have expert opinions, and that we can all learn together.


Workshop Model: Introducing Notice and Note Signposts with Nonfiction Picture Books

As I started planning the move of my grade elevens from a unit focusing on narrative nonfiction into a reading unit on informational text, I debated on how to start. I had done a soft introduction the week before with Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week, but I hadn’t talked to my students about specific strategies when approaching informational text. I had simply told them to read the articles, annotate the text, and to write a one-page response to the articles.

The Article of the Week is a great resource. The topics are current and give my international students an opportunity to pay attention to the news. The task is straight-forward and the text provides a challenge, but it’s not overwhelming because the length of the articles is manageable. The articles are thought-provoking and I look forward to some deep discussion as we get further along in this unit. Also, it’s a great resource for busy teachers, and for that I am quite thankful!

I started a small book club at my school recently. We are reading Notice and Note, by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst, and are discovering the power in the signposts for fiction. (There are only three of us in our book club, and we meet only every eight days, but because of that, it’s not difficult to keep up with. I think all teachers should be in this practice with professional publication book clubs!) While I knew that the fiction signposts aren’t exactly what I needed to share with my students, my book club led me to thinking about the Reading Nonfiction signposts.

The five nonfiction signposts are:

Contrasts and Contradictions

Extreme or Absolute Language

Numbers and Stats

Quoted Words

Word Gaps


These are the signposts my grade eleven students need to know and understand, I realized. Soon they are starting book clubs of their own with some informational texts, and these signposts will be perfect for discussion starters, and to keep the conversation going as they work on their sustained, deliberate talk.

I decided to introduce the signposts using children’s books. It’s National Picture Book Month, so why not? The text is accessible, and because students are learning new strategies, I don’t need to complicate things further. So I went to our fantastic learning commons, and pulled lots and lots of books from the shelves.

IMG_3992 2

My students sit in small table groups, so I gave a few books to each group, a handout with the signposts listed with short decsriptions to each student, and provided some sticky notes for them to use.

I had put posters around the room with individual signposts as titles, and instructed my students to find examples of signposts in their picture books and then put the sticky notes on the charts. They got right to it.

They worked together, had fun reading the books – both text and pictures are important – and discovered the signposts in the different books.

Thankfully, there weren’t too many word gaps for students in these elementary level picture books!

This activity took about thirty minutes. My students had some fun and learned a new strategy in a way that was pretty low-risk. They helped each other, worked together, and indicated that they will be able to apply these strategies when they read the next Article of the Week and even when they get into their longer texts in book clubs.

In addition, one beautiful book that I noticed to be especially helpful with a few of the signposts is Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh. I’ll share some pictures with the signpost in the caption below.

separate is never equal
Even the title has a signpost: Extreme/Absolute Language
About the text
This signpost is Quoted Words and is found at the end of the book.
The Quoted Words on this page come from the court transcripts: “Segregation tends to give an aura of inferiority. In order to have the people of the United States understand one another it is necessary for them to live together, and the public school is the one mechanism where all the children of all the people go.”
The glossary at the end helps students to fill in some of the Word Gaps.

Most school libraries will have plenty of nonfiction picture books to pull from the shelves, so the resources necessary for this quick introduction are easily accessible and quite flexible. I’d love to hear how others introduce these nonfiction signposts, and how the students respond!

Follow Julie on Twitter: @SwinehartJulie

The Power of Talk and Class Discussion

One of my professional goals this year is to provide my students with as many high quality opportunities to talk to each other as I can. To allow them to engage in deliberate, academic conversations. To show their thinking through discussion and purposeful talk.

I always feel like it’s a risk because I never know what they are going to say. It’s a matter of letting go of control, and trusting and teaching my students to speak thoughtfully.

Easier said than done (for me to let go of control – not for them to engage in thoughtful discussion), but I continue to try.

I first saw this new Burger King commercial when it lit up my twitter feed a few days ago. It’s gotten a lot of press and interest because its anti-bullying message resonates with kids and adults, and it’s impossible to argue that bullying is anything but bad.

I wanted to show the ad to my high school juniors because I thought the message is spot on. It’s a funny, heartwarming, and in moments, tense commercial with a clear, positive message. Plus, it compares high school juniors to Whopper juniors. That’s funny.

I started class with an excerpt by Eric Luper from an NPR book review of the book Dear Bully by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones. I first read aloud the excerpt which describes a fifth grade boy who is blindfolded with his hoodie by some “cool kids,” and then tied to a fence inside some tennis courts. He first allows the hazing ritual because he wants to become a part of the in group, but soon realizes that he has signed up for more than he wants.Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 6.43.39 PM

The narrator had remembered what it was like when he was recently the targeted victim of this group, and keeps reminding his audience that he is glad that it’s not himself who is the target anymore.

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There was a noticeable silence and inhale of breath in my classroom when I was reading the tense moment towards the end, when we don’t know if our narrator is going to rescue the helpless victim or not.

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This short piece set the tone for viewing the Burger King commercial. We watched it together and students responded predictably and appropriately. They laughed when the man in the kitchen “bullied” the Whopper Jr by smashing it, and then at the confused customer responses.

They were tense when the bigger boy poured soda on the smaller boy’s tray, and there was a small sigh of relief when the nice lady in the booth intervened and tried to make the bullied boy feel better about himself.

In the end, my students thought it was a nice commercial with a thoughtful message, and many of them felt they could relate to it.

I asked them to respond using the Book Head Heart framework we’ve employed a few times, the one that is found in Disrupting Thinking.

There were some thoughtful table discussions, and then some thoughtful whole class discussion. This framework is one of the best discussion starters I have ever used in my classroom. Many of my students focused on the heart portion of the framework, which totally makes sense. There is a lot of emotion in the ad.

When I asked them to think about the three modes of persuasion/rhetoric: logo, pathos, and ethos, they increased their level of thoughtful discourse, and participated in some deliberate talk.

As I circulated the room, I heard some conversations about the comparison that was being made in the commercial. There was some confusion, and while students generally liked the message of the ad, they had some questions about its method. Some rumblings about burgers not being the same as people.

But then class was coming to a close, and the clock prevented us from furthering our discussions.

However, it got me thinking about the ad. At first, I had accepted it at face value – I had appreciated the message, and wanted to talk to my students about methods of advertising, along with providing a quick and relevant reminder of the definitions and application of logos, pathos, and ethos.

But this power of classroom talk, the value of student voice, empowered my students to ask questions that I hadn’t considered.

It led me to teaching points during our next class that I didn’t anticipate when I first introduced the two texts. We talked about logical fallacies, and specifically, false analogies.

My students were able to push back on this well-received commercial, and apply academic vocabulary to their thoughts.

Some of them said that while they think the intended message of the commercial is anti-bullying, the ultimate goal of Burger King is to sell burgers. But that the goal of the commercial is to raise awareness and spread the idea that bullying is bad, that bystanders can intervene. They were torn.

What they could agree on is that the commercial made a faulty analogy. The people who stood up for the Whopper were actually standing up for themselves. They had purchased a specific product, and that product was faulty. They weren’t concerned about the well-being of the burger; instead, they were standing up for themselves. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just not the same thing.

Because of the workshop model, because talk is valued, because student voice is such an integral part of this framework, students led us to an entirely different conclusion than I had planned or anticipated. It was better, and it was deeper thinking.

No, a person isn’t analogous to a burger, even when the label “junior” is attached. But we all decided that the anti-bullying message is valuable, and we were all relieved when the woman with the glasses and the man in the red shirt intervened and made the victim feel validated.

We recognized the power in advertising. And I recognized the power of productive talk.

Follow Julie on Twitter @SwinehartJulie

A Simple Method for Teaching Voice and Characterization

A few weeks ago, at the end of class, one of my students asked a question about her book – about the way it sounds when she reads it. She was reading Girls Like Us by Gail Giles and was wondering about dialect used by two characters named Quincy and Biddy.

The novel is about two girls who have just graduated from a high school special education program. They are very different in personality, but end up rooming together in their first apartment. They help each other through some tough times, and ultimately discover that they are more similar than they realized. My students who have read it love it, and it has been shared among my ninth grade girls quite a bit.

Quincy’s opening line is “Most folk call me Quincy. I ain’t pretty but I got me a pretty name. My whole name be Sequencia.”

My student thought that maybe Quincy should be a little more grammatically correct, or speak properly, or something… she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

The question took us to a lesson about dialect, which ultimately led us to a discussion about voice.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 5.18.26 AMI made copies of both characters’ first lines: both Biddy and Quincy have unique dialects, outlooks, and voices. I asked my students to annotate the excerpts, looking for examples of dialect and voice.


I have to admit that when I sat with them to annotate the Biddy section, I couldn’t help but get out my teacher pen and teacher attitude. I didn’t annotate; I edited.

I then read my corrections aloud. Imagine:

” My name is Biddy.

Some people call me other names.

Granny calls me Retard.

Quincy calls me White Trash sometimes and Fool most of the time…

I can’t read or write…

There are many things I cannot do.”

Imagine if Quincy had started with “Most people call me Quincy. I’m not considered conventionally pretty, but my name is pretty. My full name is Sequencia.” It does not have the same sound or impact. No question.

When I read Biddy’s “corrected” version aloud my students weren’t impressed. One even said something like “I don’t mean to offend you, but your version wasn’t as good.”

Exactly. That’s exactly what I wanted them to get at. That the dialect and the imperfections are an important part of what give a character voice and individuality.

Over the next few days, I went on to give them more examples. I started with a familiar one: img_3908.jpg

In chapter six of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hagrid introduces the hippogriff to Harry. Imagine if he had said instead,

Now class, the first thing you should know about hippogriffs is that they are proud creatures. They are easily offended, so refrain from insulting them. It could prove to be very dangerous.

After the easy, familiar text, I shared the first page of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with these grade nine students. IMG_3914

Imagine if Huck Finn had started with:

“You don’t know who I am unless you have already read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, written by Mark Twain.”

Then think about the first book of the Harry Potter series. The famous scene when Harry learns that he’s a wizard.

IMG_3912Imagine if my teacher pen had corrected Hagrid into saying something like

“Of course you’re a wizard, Harry. Once you’ve had a decent education, you’ll be an excellent one. With heritage and genes like yours, what else could you possibly dream to be?”

Trust me, after hearing the “corrections,” students understood the power of dialect, and how it impacts voice and characterization. I really didn’t need to say much more.

I asked my students to include dialogue and dialect in the narratives they were writing, and to be purposeful. They were able to apply what they had learned, and to find their own voice.

Follow Julie on Twitter @SwinehartJulie

The Classic – Contemporary Literature Mash-Up, and Taking Risks

My ninth grade students have all of the voice and choice that they need when it comes to choosing their independent reading books. Our focus has been on narrative reading and writing as we have launched the school year, so as you can guess, finding narratives that students want to read is pretty easy. The choices are really wide-open.

The choices that students don’t have as much voice in are the mentor texts. Those short, whole-class texts that we all read together, and that we use for so many different purposes.

Our curriculum suggests that we read James Thurber’s classic short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty , originally published in 1939 in The New Yorker, during this launching unit. It’s a great story, and once the students understand that Walter Mitty isn’t actually an airplane pilot or a surgeon, they can relate to him and his daydreams. We’ve all been there, daydreaming about being somewhere other than our current reality.

We read the story in class; I did a think-aloud with the first section, reading the dialogue with different voices and inflection. For example, I stopped and talked to my students about how the punctuation clues me in to shifts in setting, and how the use of “ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa” brings me right into the scene. I can hear the noise of the airplane, and can see how the sound intensifies in the story through the use of italics.

I asked my students to read and annotate – always read with a pencil in your hand! – using the Book Head Heart framework we have practiced several times. While some of my students “got it” right away, I didn’t feel the engagement in the room that I was hoping to feel. They weren’t relating to Walter Mitty like I was hoping they would.

A about the same time I was teaching Walter Mitty, our department received our new classroom libraries (more on that later! So exciting!) and I picked up our new copy of Kwame Alexander’s Booked, a book I had looked forward to reading since I had read Crossover for the Book Love Foundation Summer Book Club. As soon as I brought it home, my ten-year-old son spotted it and then read it in one sitting, hooked because it has a soccer ball on the cover, and of course because the story is engaging and powerful. It is an absolutely beautiful book, and it reaches kids.

Hanging right outside my classroom door, this sign helps me to be public about my reading life.

After I got the book back from my son, I keyed in to the scene when our main character, Nick Hall, has a daydream sequence. Let me set the scene… he’s in his boring English class, and his mind starts to wander… he’s about to score the “winning kick of [his] Barcelona debut” when his English teacher interrupts the daydream and prevents him from winning the imaginary game.

This sounds suspiciously similar to when Walter Mitty is about to save the imaginary crew of his imaginary plane from dying in an imaginary hurricane, and his wife tells him “Not so fast! You’re driving too fast!” and jolts him back to the reality of driving to town. I realized that Walter Mitty and Nick Hall have some things in common, and that maybe Nick Hall is more relatable to my ninth grade students. An excerpt from Booked could help my students access Walter Mitty.

I also realized that we hadn’t talked about the use of verse for telling a narrative story. It seemed like the perfect time to introduce Nick Hall to my students and to show them that there are multiple ways to write a narrative.

So the following day I asked my students to narrate a story from Walter Mitty’s point of view, but write it as though they are Kwame Alexander writing about Nick Hall. To mash up a classic story with a contemporary one. This was a great exercise in character study, in word choice, in voice. It was a way for my students to be creative while exploring and playing with these characters. There were beautiful “lightbulb” moments in those thirty minutes of class, and students started to understand who Walter Mitty is, and what his motivations are. They discovered who Walter Mitty is because they could understand Nick Hall. Like Nick, they have all been bored in class before, and they all know soccer. It clicked with them.

I used my R/W notebook as a model for mimicking the Thurber-Alexander mashup.

Before class, I worked on my own Booked-Walter Mitty mash-up.

I copied the first part of our excerpt from Booked:

Mrs. Hardwick’s Honors English class

is one boring

required read

after another.

Here’s what I wrote in that same style:

Mrs. Mitty’s Weekly Trips to Town

are one boring

stupid stop

after another.

I shared my own writing with my students, letting them know that it was far from perfect, but I was having fun playing with words and form.

I showed them that later in my writing I used the word slow deliberately in my mash-up – I tried to play with Alexander’s use of font choices as I was writing from Walter Mitty’s point of view. I wrote s  l  o  w  in my own notebook, stretching out the letters, trying to slow the pace of the reader, looking for effect, similar to when Nick Hall’s friend whispers to him in tiny, italicized font, and we know it’s a quiet voice. I capitalized all of the letters in HITS in my own writing, trying to copy the effect of SLAMS from the Nick Hall excerpt.

Then I let them loose to do the same. To have fun with words, to play in their readers-writers notebooks, and to start to understand the characters and forms better.

Our class had some great discussion; we talked about author’s purpose, which translated to their own purpose in writing. We talked about the effect on the reader, and how authors’ choices are deliberate, but that it takes time to write exactly what we mean.

We played with words, with language, with character, and we deepened our understanding of all of them.

As I informally debriefed this lesson with our school’s teacher-librarian/high school literacy coach @jtlevitt (I’m often at her desk, pondering something that happened in class and asking her for her thoughts on how to sharpen my workshop skills), she directed me to chapter six in Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them. Kittle writes:

How do I choose mentor texts? I look for the best writing in the genre we’re studying while we’re studying it. That way I find fresh work I can read with students for the first time discovering a writer’s craft. Most model texts used again and again become dull for me, so I’m always seeking the surprise of new ideas.

My friend and literacy coach showed me that I also was finding the freshest, best writing in the genre we are studying: narrative. That new ideas are powerful, and not only keep students engaged, but excite the teacher as well.

I look forward to finding more pieces of literature that I can use to help my students’ understanding of story, of words, of form. I like this mash-up of literature, and the mimicking and discovery that comes with it.

Update: I’m adding an exemplar piece from one of my students. She and I are both very proud.

Follow Julie on Twitter: @SwinehartJulie

Teaching “Book – Head – Heart” using Current Events

I’m a coward.

I tend to shy away from controversial issues in my classroom. I like to stick to the standards, stick to the canon, stick to what’s safe.

That means I don’t talk enough about current events with my students. It takes us all out of our comfort zones, and like many people, I like to stay in mine.

I realize it’s not the best way. Students need a safe place where they can learn to explore issues, even to get into the habit of paying attention to the news, and to discover and strengthen their own ideas and beliefs. While it’s not my place to tell them what to feel or value, I can help them to discover it within themselves.

So today I stepped outside of my comfort zone. I pushed myself in order to allow my students to explore who they are as individuals, using current events and the Book Head Heart framework as the tools.

I think it’s important to realize that students need a framework when discussing current issues. My students are polite, care about each other, and generally want to be knowledgable and feel smart about things. While that is a great start, I think they need a bit more guidance, especially with tough issues, which is where the Book Head Heart framework from Disrupting Thinking comes in.

Today I introduced that framework using Kwame Alexander’s powerful piece, Take a Knee.

I had already made an anchor chart for the wall, and then put the same information on the white board. It’s straight out of Disrupting Thinking.

BHH Anchor Chart
Small Book Head Heart Anchor Chart…It’s not artistic, it’s not beautiful, and many people could do it better…
BHH Whiteboard
White Board Notes – BHH

I instructed my students to take notes so that they could refer to the framework later when they were involved in their own independent reading. I explained that it’s the rare occasion when I will ask them to all write the same thing at the same time, but this was one of those times when I thought it was important enough to do.

I also included the information on Google Classroom, so it is now easily available in their own notes, online, and on my classroom wall.

While they took notes, I tried to explain different aspects of the BHH framework.

I talked about the fact that the Book category can mean any text, including video, infographics, short stories, poetry, etc.

By the time we were done with the discussion, they had added one more question to the Book questions: What is the story? It definitely connects to the question What is the story about, but when they were answering the second question after watching Alexander’s piece, they had to define what the story was before they could decide who was telling it.

We worked through the rest of the ideas in the Book Head Heart questions before watching the video.

My students had a lot of questions about the piece. I teach in an international school, so a few of my students needed background knowledge about what is customary and traditional during the national anthem. Some didn’t know what it means to take a knee. Some of them didn’t recognize the faces and names listed in the video. Questions like Who was Trayvon? and What is Ferguson? were cautiously asked. I had to remind myself that in 2014, many of my students were eleven years old. In 2012 they were nine. To them, some current events stem from ancient history.

What they did recognize was the power of the poetry.


We talked, shared ideas, provided some background knowledge and context for one another, and offered opinions in a safe place before watching it a second time. That time, in addition to the content, I asked them to pay attention to the pacing, the repetition, and when the repetition pauses or stops. I asked my students to think about how those moves impact them while they experienced the piece for the second time.

After the second viewing, I invited students to watch again and again as needed, but this time using their own devices and earbuds. They were impacted and interested enough to continue engaging with the text, and they started to answer the B-H-H questions both in small group discussions and on paper.

I loved listening to their talk, and later, reading their responses.

We gave each other permission to not have a comprehensive answer for the question in the Head category about how their thinking had been changed, challenged, or confirmed. Many of them didn’t have opinions about what it means to take a knee, but they could comment and discuss how they felt about the power of poetry and it’s ability to inspire and move an audience.

One student said that while she hadn’t been paying attention enough to the news to have an opinion, this powerful piece made her feel something deep in her heart. Comments about how one person can give other people confidence to stand up for their beliefs were quietly posed, and many students agreed that no matter what their opinion is on taking a knee, it’s important to be able to talk about it and try to understand the other side.

So there it is — the Book Head Heart framework helped to organize my students’ thoughts about a current event, about a controversial topic. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t comprehensive. But it was a start. They learned a little bit about what’s going on in the world, and they learned about themselves. I learned more about who they are and how they think.

Together, we proved that the quote I hang on my wall from Disrupting Thinking is true:

Ultimate goal of reading quote

We won’t always know how we will get better, or what we will get better at. It depends on the text and our purpose for reading it, but if we are thoughtful, we will undoubtedly be better.

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Teaching Parents about Workshop

When I was in high school, all of my classes read the same books at the same time. We wrote the same essays, gave the same speeches, and took the same notes. We barely had choices in the school cafeteria, let alone in our curriculum or classes. Student choice just wasn’t the focus.

During the first couple of weeks of this school year, it occurred to me that the parents of my students must have had similar experiences in school. They didn’t grow up with the workshop model, either. But unlike us teachers, they haven’t been reading about it, studying it, and living it. So it’s easy to see why not all parents feel familiar with it.

I posed this issue to my colleagues in my department, and we decided to address it at our school’s parent night.

We shared a couple of infographics which help to explain the power of reading. Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 11.05.23 AMScreen Shot 2017-06-12 at 9.03.33 AMI like both of these infographics because they blend the ideas and dispositions of the necessity and pleasure of having a healthy reading life with statistics and percentiles. They show actual growth and the ability for students to improve. I think this is the kind of information that parents respond well to.

We also included some information about the workshop model. We didn’t print a traditional syllabus or a list of school supplies students will need.

Instead, we tried to share some information about what workshop is. We created a department handout rather than handouts for our individual classes, which helps to solidify the message that workshop is what we do at our school.

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We also explained what kind of books “count” towards our classes. We explained that books of poetry, graphic novels, collections of short stories, along with novels, biographies, memoirs, etc are all “real books” and should be encouraged and allowed.

We explained that student choice is one of the foundational elements of workshop.

We explained that homework in our English classes will always include choice reading and notebook writing. That sometimes students will read shared texts, but most often the reading at home will be based on student choice.

We encouraged parents to support their students by asking often, What are you reading? because our students should always have a great answer, and it’s a great way to communicate with students about school and life.

It was a good reminder to me that parents are almost always interested in what’s going on in their students’ lives at school, and they appreciate learning about the details.

Communication with parents is always a good idea, and this particular issue is no exception.


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