Book Talking the Newbery Honors and Winners with our Middle School Readers

Living in Nicaragua is amazing – it’s a beautiful country full of stunning volcanoes, unique wildlife, and lovely people. While there are many fantastic reasons to live here, it’s still sometimes a challenge to find new books for my classroom library. Luckily, my parents recently came for a visit, and before they travelled, they hit up some local second-hand shops and library sales. They ended up filling extra suitcases with 95 “new” books for our classroom library!

As I was shelving and organizing our new books, I noticed that there are several Newbery Honor and Winning books in our collection.

Newbery books
Brown Girl Dreaming, 2015; The Voice that Changed a Nation, 2005; Because of Winn-Dixie, 2001; The Ear the Eye and the Arm, 1995; The Thief, 1997; The Bronze Bow, 1962; The Egypt Game, 1968; Anpao, 1978; Miracles on Maple Hill, 1957; The Witch of Blackbird Pond, 1959; Hitty Her First Hundred Years, 1930; The Door in the Wall, 1950; Savvy, 2009; Walk Two Moons, 1995; The Giver, 1994; The Westing Game, 1979; The Dark Frigate, 1924; Indian Captive, 1942; Al Capone Does My Shirts, 2005; Dear Mr. Henshaw, 1984; The Crossover, 2015; The Trumpeter of Krakow, 1929; The Wanderer, 2001; The Road From Home, 1980

I also realized that I needed a quick way to get my seventh grade students familiar with the new titles.

I decided to pull all of the Newbery books and set them out on my students’ desks before they got to class. Between what I already had, and what was new, I had more than enough copies for every student to have at least one to learn about!

Instead of a book talk from me, I asked my students to get to know the book that was in front of them. After a few minutes with the book, they would pass it to the next person, and repeat the process a couple of times.

Anticipation had already been built for the new books before they even arrived, so when my students walked in to see new books on the desks, they were eager to get started.

I reminded my students what I include when I share our daily book talk:

  • I take a look at the cover and look for title, author, medals, and endorsements.
  • I read the inside flap or the back of the book.
  • I read the first sentence, paragraph, or page.
  • I check the publication date.
  • I read “about the author” if the option is there.
  • I look to see what the original language is, and if the book has been translated.

They jumped in, eager to look for the items we usually include in a book talk, but finding these items on their own, quietly. After a minute or two, they rotated books, and then repeated the process a couple of times.

After they had gotten to know three or four books, they partnered up with someone in the room who hadn’t had any of their same titles. That meant that with each partnership, there were six to eight titles they could discuss. I directed them to choose a partner A and a partner B, and that they would continue with a knee to knee conversation about the new titles in our classroom library.

By the time they were done with their conversations, they had each added a title or two to their Next Reads Lists, and some had even picked up a new book to start reading immediately.

While I love sharing nontraditional books with my seventh-grade students, I also think it’s important to share some of the classics and soon-to-be classics with them. This was a fun, quick, method for sharing several new, high-quality titles in an efficient way.

How do you ensure that you present a variety of titles to your students? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty 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 have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

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Popular Titles for Middle School Students

Lately I’ve seen several twitter and facebook posts asking for “must-purchase” titles for classroom libraries and book clubs. It’s that time of year – the time when we order for next year and cross our fingers that it all arrives by the first day of school.

Ordering titles for our classroom libraries is no joke, so I love seeing how thoughtful people are about it.

I thought I’d check in with my students to find out how they might answer that question, so I asked them what their best books of the year have been so far. They wrote about it and talked about it, and then I had them publicly post their titles so that other students could get inspired to read new titles, add to their next reads lists, or think about new titles for summer reading.

Here’s what we came up with:

Block A Best Books
Bad Kitty, Norse Mythology, Pugs of the Frozen North, A Wrinkle in Time, Hitler Youth, The Martian Chronicles, To the Field of Stars, All Fall Down, Echo, Auggie and Me, Our Surprising Love Story, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Long Way Down, The House of the Scorpion

All Fall Down by Ally Carter has been a big hit with several of my seventh grade girls. All Fall Down Cover

It’s the first in a mystery series, and three of my seventh-grade girls have read all three of the books in the series since I added it to my classroom library in January. It’s led one of them to read some of Ally Carter’s other books, and they have had some fun and authentic discussions about these books, which is always fun to witness.

Block C Best Books
The Fault in our Stars, Twilight, Long Way Down, Memoirs of a Geisha, Turtles All the Way Down, Sarah’s Key, Everything Everything, Big Foot, Looking for Alaska, American Sniper, Smile, Booked, Guinness Book of World Records, Anne of Green Gables, Perfect, Out of My Mind, Insurgent, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe moved one of my readers to tears.

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This student literally hugged her copy when she was done with it, and while she is a prolific reader, this one made it to her “top book” award. If this student recommends it, then I’m sold.

Block E Best Books
Eleanor and Park, Everything Everything, The DaVinci Code, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before, 3:59, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Crossover, The Maze Runner, Out of My Mind, The Hunger Games, The Perfectionist, Taste Test, Love that Dog, The Alchemist, Slappy New Year, Between Shades of Gray, Star Wars, The Popularity Papers

Out of My Mind seems to be a game changer for a few of my seventh grade readers.

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Somehow, this sweet story of an eleven-year-old girl who is drastically underestimated has reached some students who I never would have pegged as liking “this kind of book.” One boy in particular has said it’s the best book he’s ever read, and if I could translate the look on his face into words, you wouldn’t doubt it.

Hopefully these titles my students shared will help with some of your purchasing choices this spring.

One thing to notice is that these titles aren’t the latest or newest publications, but they are fairly recently published, for the most part.

I think the important piece is not that we have the newest and hottest titles (not that it doesn’t help!), but that we realize that variety and availability are what matter. To illustrate this point, I’ll share an example: I purchased about 150 “new” books for my classroom library over the winter break, brought them back to Nicaragua in my suitcases, book talked them daily, and made them available to all of my students.

Variety and availability have made a significant difference in the reading habits and attitudes of many of my students. I didn’t spend a lot of money – some of the books I purchased second or third hand for fifty-cents apiece. I’ve reinforced the paperback covers with packing tape, and it helps. The point is that the books are readily available, and I know what I have in my library, I know my readers, and I can do my best to play matchmaker between book and reader.

How do you choose books for your classroom library? What are some of your must-haves?

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty 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 have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

This post was originally published on Three Teachers Talk.

Three Non traditional Titles for our Middle School Readers

I share new titles with my students every day in the form of book talks. Often, at least a couple of my students will put those titles on their next reads lists, and on great days a student will grab one of these titles and immediately begin reading it. However, there are still reluctant readers who aren’t yet sure what they love to read, and are nervous about taking risks with long or traditional books.

In the never-ending quest to find fun and high-interest titles for my reluctant middle school readers, I’m always on the lookout for something different yet relevant for them. Today I book talked three nontraditional titles, and they were well-received by my two groups of seventh graders.

three nontraditional titles

The first one is The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. It’s a beautiful book of black and white illustrations that are whimsical and fantastic. It inspires imagination and internal story telling. I’m sure it will be fantastic for inspiring quick-writes and other longer narrative writing, and today, a couple of my students enjoyed it during silent reading time.

 

I book talked Postcards From Camp next. It’s a heartwarming story told through correspondence between a boy who goes to summer camp, and his father, who is always encouraging. It was a huge hit in both of today’s middle school classes.

I’m fairly certain it is the first epistolary story many of my seventh grade students have read, so I’m happy to introduce this new form to them. It’s accessible and fun, as it has removable ghost stories and lists, and the story is told primarily through these postcards between father and son.

 

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Here there be Dragons is the last title I shared with my middle school students today. It’s a collection of stories and verse, and it has beautiful illustrations sprinkled throughout. It’s the kind of book that doesn’t have to be read in its entirety, so students can feel a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment even when they read only a couple of the sections out of the book.

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As far as I can tell, getting students to feel comfortable and confident with books in their hands is the first step in developing strong and healthy reading lives in our students. It’s okay with me if they start with small, or fun, or non traditional titles and work their way to other genres and authors.

Yes, it’s all about the books. But it’s also all about the students. After all, we don’t teach books, we teach kids. I think it’s important for teachers to meet students where they are instead of insisting that they reach up to intimidating expectations. After enjoying some non traditional titles, students will build confidence and enthusiasm they need for trying out new titles. And I think that’s the whole point.

How do you reach your dormant readers? I’d love to hear other strategies!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty 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 have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Reading without Words

Too often, the purpose of reading in school is about grammar, vocabulary acquisition, organization, structure, mechanics, conventions, punctuation, figurative language, imagery, etc, etc, etc . . . There’s always a standard, a clear purpose, a takeaway for students when they read . . . but that doesn’t always have to be the case.

There is another important purpose for reading.

Reading is about stories, about discovering and creating our own identities, about realizing that others share in the same struggles as us. Reading is about being human, and being able to touch something on a page that tells our human experience when we are unable to find the words to tell it ourselves.

Reading is about stories, about discovering and creating our own identities, about realizing that others share in the same struggles as us. Reading is about being human, and being able to touch something that can tell our human experience when we are unable to find the words to tell it ourselves. 

Some of our students haven’t discovered this yet, and the reason is often because of the accessibility and relevance of books. We’ve all struggled with finding texts that are age and level appropriate for some of our students — readers who struggle don’t want to read what they deem to be “baby books” for a variety of reasons that are fair and legitimate. They need books that they can read and books that they want to read.

Recently I’ve discovered that there are some beautiful, poignant, relevant illustrated books that are decidedly not perceived as baby books, and which take a lot of thinking and reading in order to understand. But they are wordless, or at least almost wordless.

While I’m not giving up on teaching words and all of their beauty, I also know that wordless stories have a place in my classroom.

The book I’ve recently fallen in love with is The Arrival by Shaun Tan. It’s a wordless graphic novel, and it tells the story of a person who leaves his family behind in order to create a better life for them all. arrival cover

It’s the kind of story all sorts of people can relate to: Character endures separation, loneliness, and heartache because of hope, optimism, and desperation.

It’s beautifully complex and requires some attention to detail, some hard thinking, and some rereading in order to really understand and analyze it.

I’ve book talked it to several of my classes, and I’ve gotten some puzzled looks when students try to understand how a book can be both complex and wordless.

They struggle to understand how they could find fiction signposts, discover characterization, etc, in a wordless book, that is, until they get the book in their hands.

Students who don’t always have easy access to complex texts have found success with finding the Beers/Probst Notice and Note Fiction Signposts in this complex and detailed story.

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For example, this Again and Again signpost is an easy one to spot – the main character carries a picture of his family as he travels from his home country to his new land, and the photo pops up in many of the frames. It’s significant because students realize quickly that this man’s family is the most important thing to him, which is why he carries the photo everywhere.

Both boys and girls have read this book, and I’ve overheard conversations about what it might be about as they wonder and struggle through their thinking. This is the kind of talk I love to hear.

This morning, I discovered four boys reading choice books on a bench: one was reading this wordless graphic novel, another was reading one of the Harry Potter books for the first time, another was reading The Crossover, a novel written in verse, and the last one was reading a humorous graphic novel. All different forms of books, but all legitimate books that “count.”

The point is, all of these students had texts that were accessible to them. They were curious about their own reading, and were enjoying their books. Their brains were engaged, they were talking to each other about what they were reading, and most importantly, they were fostering a community of reading as well as their own healthy reading lives.

Graphic novels, with or without words, can be excellent bridges between teacher, student, and healthy reading habits. Students can learn valuable reading skills and strategies with all kinds of books – even the “extreme” examples that don’t have words. It’s not a place where I want my students to “live” — but I don’t want my students to “live” in any one genre or form anyway. They should build skills, stretch their brains and habits, find familiar and easier books, and then stretch some more. The wordless book have a place in their learning, and will always have a place in my secondary language arts classroom.

A few wordless/nearly wordless books that are complex and relevant to secondary students:

  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan
  • The Marvels by David Selznick
  • Unspoken by Henry Cole

One final idea: It’s a bit like teaching reading strategies with the Pixar short films. My grade sevens practiced finding fiction signposts in the short film Partly Cloudy last week, and they were able to point out signposts even though the movie does not have dialogue.

Studying and reading wordless books and silent films can build confidence and skills in our readers who struggle with more complex texts, and while we can’t ignore their decoding skills, we can also allow them to grapple with the complexities of stories that are developmentally appropriate for their growing identities as readers and human beings.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty 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 have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

This post was originally published on Three Teachers Talk.

Utilizing Every Square Meter

We’ve got them in every class… those students who love to sit in the back of the room or in the corner that’s difficult to get into once chairs are out, backpacks are on the floor, and drawers have been opened, etc. The corners and spaces that present challenges to navigate, and without being aware of it, make it so we let things slide. Maybe we don’t check in as often during notebook work, maybe we don’t see what’s on the computer screen as much during our writing work time, maybe we don’t always see what page they are on during independent reading time.

Maybe you all have figured out how to prevent these “dead spaces” from being a thing in your classrooms, but I was still working on it at the beginning of my twentieth year of teaching.

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It was a concept I had first started thinking about when reading Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion a number of years ago (the updated version can be found here).

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I remember having a conversation with colleagues about “owning the room” based on what we had read in the book. I knew then that I had dead spaces, and I’ve worked on eliminating those spaces ever since.

This year I wanted to think about my classroom differently. I didn’t want to “eliminate dead spaces” as much as I decided I wanted to utilize the space to its fullest potential. I wanted each student to have a front row seat for at least part of the class time every day. I feel that this is inclusive; the students who often stay under the radar in the quieter spaces of my classroom can still find the spotlight, and the students whose personalities require constant attention sometimes find that they aren’t in the limelight for a little while. I want to spread my attention evenly and fairly, and I think that utilizing our space deliberately is one of the answers to this issue.

While nothing is every perfect, I think I’ve stumbled upon some good solutions.

I started by figuring out where the traditional problem areas are. I’m sure many teachers can relate: it’s primarily the corners and the walls. So I first focused on the perimeter of my classroom.

I looked at the corners and made sure that each of the four corners has a specific purpose.

  • One corner has the TV screen and rug so that students can come up to participate in mini-lessons.
  • One corner is where students enter and exit, so I used the wall space for student work and my currently reading notice. I also re-purposed my podium — I turned the front of it to the wall and am using it as a place for students to sign in when they leave class or come in tardy. There are also handouts for students on the lower shelf.
  • Another corner has a cupboard in it, which is always accessible. It’s for students — they can find extra supplies as well as their textbooks (we use them more as anthologies, to be honest).
  • The last corner is the most popular. It’s the reading corner. It’s next to the classroom library, has the comfy couch, and also showcases student work as well as our reading agreements.
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This corner has the TV/computer set up for mini-lessons.
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The corner with my door showcases student work, has a spot for handouts and the bathroom/tardy sheets, and has my “currently reading” notice on the door.
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The corner with the closet isn’t off-limits to students. Extra supplies and textbooks (we’re calling them anthologies this year) are accessible to students at any time.
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Student work is displayed in the reading corner. Currently on the walls are some grade eleven one-pagers. These also provide ideas for what other students might want to read next.
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The reading corner is a popular spot; it’s right next to the classroom library and has the comfortable furniture.
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Mrs. Swinehart is currently reading…
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Students come to the rug for mini-lessons in this corner of the room.

After looking at the corners, I examined the purpose of each of the four walls.

  • One wall is our classroom library, which is always a popular place to be. We use it and love it every day, in every class. It’s organized, at eye level, has a rotating display, and most importantly, includes titles that will appeal to my students.
  • Another wall is what would traditionally be the back of the room. It already had bulletin boards on it, so I hung anchor charts that are relevant on a daily basis. I refer to them, I walk to and through the space, and kids actively turn their bodies to look at them.
  • The next wall is what would traditionally be the front of the room. It’s where the white boards are, so it’s naturally where I put our daily agenda, and where I write the things that don’t need to be digital or saved on a chart. Books are displayed on the marker tray, monthly book talk lists are on one of the bulletin boards to the side of the white board, and it’s where we can go for “spur of the moment” lessons that aren’t created digitally in advance and don’t use the document camera.
  • The last wall is a wall of windows, and where a teacher might put a desk. My “desk” is there, but it’s pushed up against the wall and serves as a supply table. Next to it is our conferring space, which is used when I’m not circulating the room, and is even as a space for completing our Running Records. When I’m circulating the room, it’s another space for students to complete the learning in our classroom.

 

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Our classroom library is constantly in use.

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The white board wall is also used for book displays, a daily agenda, and unit goals.
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The “teacher desk” is also a supply table. I’ve reserved a student desk behind it for the “teacher stuff” – including the obligatory year-round-use Christmas coffee mug, stack of loose papers, and Norton Reader. (I’m assuming every teacher has something like this?)
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The conferring space/extra space for student learning

 

Lastly, I had to look to the inside of the room. The perimeter is important, but the students tend to “live” towards the center of the room. I’ve tried to make it so the desks aren’t pointed in one particular direction so that each space feels important. I’ve moved desks so students have partners, I’ve had arcs facing different directions in different parts of the room, and sometimes the desk arrangement feels random or messy. I think that’s okay. The point isn’t to have orderly desks. It’s to have students who are engaged in their learning.

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While I’m sure I’ll still have days when I don’t visit every square foot in each and every class period, I think it’s an improvement on what my classroom set up once was. I don’t think there are any spots for students to “hide” and I feel comfortable walking around in each corner and cranny of the classroom. Because I circulate throughout more of the room, and because my students get up and move more often to the spots where they need to be, I interact with my students on an individual level more often than before. It helps to build relationships, which leads to trust, which leads to learning. This makes for a more inclusive, learning-focused classroom, and that’s our ultimate goal.

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A panoramic view from one of the conferring chairs. On the right side of the photo, behind the fan controls, is the closet. The rest, I think, is self-explanatory.

What do you do that ensures that every corner in your classroom is used for the power of learning?

This post was originally published on Three Teachers Talk.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty 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 have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

My Classroom Library Shelves went from Empty to Full . . . and Yours Can, Too!

My family took a big plunge five years ago, and made the decision to move from our placid, beautiful Central Oregon to Amman, Jordan. So much about Jordan was wonderful, but part of our decision to move away from our home, from Oregon, was about traveling the world. So after four years in Amman, we decided to move away from Jordan, to Managua, Nicaragua.

Between making the decision in January to move to Nicaragua and actually arriving this July, Nicaragua’s travel advisory from the US State Department went from level 2 to level 3 because of civil unrest, crime, and limited healthcare availability. Of course that travel advisory rating, combined with what we were reading in the news and hearing from people who lived in Managua gave us pause, and we carefully considered the choice we were making. Ultimately, we decided to move to Managua, and we are happy with our choice.

I share this background because I want to point out that while private schools often don’t share exactly the same issues and concerns found in public schools, private schools are not always utopian. Our school is wonderful, students are eager, teachers are welcoming and caring, and our facilities are beautiful. But with the current situation in Nicaragua, some families have chosen to leave the country, which ultimately means revenue from student fees is down, and the budget reflects that situation.

Everywhere I have ever taught has had budget concerns, public or private. I’m sure all teachers can relate to budget issues, which is why I bring it up.

Even in a time of budget concerns, my classroom library grew from empty shelves to full shelves in a matter of weeks, and it didn’t cost me an extra dime.

I walked into a nice, big, but empty classroom. The bookshelves were beautiful, but bare.

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Within a day or two of being in my new space, at my new job, in my new city of residence, I was having conversations with administrators and coworkers about how to build classroom libraries.

Our first step was to visit the book room. I think most schools have a book room, and in my experience they are full of books that are rarely in the hands of students for any length of time. We decided to gather a copy of each book for each of our five classrooms, and if a teacher needed one of those copies for teaching a whole-class-novel, we would give it to that teacher to use during that particular unit.

There were also books in the book room that were not being taught as whole-class-texts, and that weren’t available in high enough numbers to be used in that way. They might be titles that could be used in future book clubs, but we decided that getting these books in the hands of students sooner rather than later was the right choice, so they were distributed as well.

My classroom library was greatly improved by visiting the book room and reimagining the uses for all of the wonderful reads that could be found there.

I found some small white boards in the closet in my classroom and repurposed them as book displays so that I could highlight titles that might be especially interesting to my students. I think the same thing could be done using repurposed cardboard and printer paper, so I want to encourage others to use what’s available in order to highlight high-interest books. There are many other ways to focus attention on desirable titles, but sometimes simple is easiest.

After raiding the book room, it was time for step two. We checked in with the main library at our school. The shelves in our library were packed tight, full of great titles, and because shelves were so full, we had the ability to pull books out of the library and redistribute them to our classroom libraries.

Our librarian has spent the last several days pulling titles from the shelves and delivering them to our classrooms. Every other day or so, a basket of books arrives, and we never know what we are going to get. What we do know is that we will have more and more books as this process progresses. There will be additional books in our classroom libraries and more room on our school library shelves. Reallocation of resources is working in a very positive way in our school.

Once I received the books from the book room and the library, I implemented step three. I organized the books. I don’t think it matters how the books are organized, just that they are organized.

I categorized my books into the following sections, and used markers and printer paper to make my labels:

  • award winners
  • historical fiction
  • classics
  • mystery
  • fantasy and sci-fi
  • contemporary fiction
  • nonfiction
  • romance and other fun reads
  • “orphan” series books (books that are #2 or later in a series when the others aren’t there)
  • short stories and essays
  • poetry and verse

As you can see, I didn’t spend a dime on any books. I didn’t ask anyone else to spend any money, either. I used what was already in my school and simply helped to redistribute resources.

In some schools or districts, asking students to bring in books, applying for grants, and asking the parent-teacher groups to support classroom libraries will be great options. However, I wanted to share that sometimes, maybe often, classroom libraries can be built with what we already have.

What do you do to help build your classroom library? I’d love to see your ideas in the comments below.

This post was originally published on Three Teachers Talk.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty 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 have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Four Ideas for Starting a Workshop Classroom with the Right Momentum

Beginning the year is fun and intimidating, exciting and daunting, full of possibility and potential, and fraught with road bumps that we haven’t even foreseen. I find that if I can set my classroom up with the right atmosphere and environment, and my students with deliberate routines and habits, the school year will be better for it.

Below are a few things I’ve prioritized in the last couple of weeks in order to help ensure a smoother school year.

  1. Anchor Charts

I have a few posters I like to hang in my classroom for students to reference on a regular basis. The Book Head Heart poster comes from Disrupting Thinking, one of the most useful professional texts I own. Even though we are only five days into the school year, my students have already started to reference the questions that are listed for each of the three categories. As they have read different memoirs, I have asked students to respond to their reading by choosing the questions they find relevant, and responding in their reader’s/writer’s notebooks. It’s been great reading over their shoulders and listening in on their conversations as they decide which questions and categories are most relevant to respond to.

The fiction and nonfiction signposts are also essential in my classroom. These posters come from Notice & Note Strategies for Close Reading and Reading Nonfiction, also by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. When I ask students to annotate texts, these are the best go-to ideas for students to annotate. After they have practice with these types of annotations, students start to personalize their annotations and figure out what works for them as individuals. But this is one of the best scaffolds I’ve found that helps students make their thinking transparent.

I also included a new anchor chart this year. It is inspired by Writing America, a book I picked up over the summer in preparation for teaching AP Lang. These particular questions refer to Amy Tan’s Mother Tongue, but I generalized the questions and I think they are probably good for all levels and a variety of texts.

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2. Reading Agreements

This is technically another poster, but I think the purpose is different enough that it deserves its own category. reading agreements

I had all of my students, grades 7, 11, and AP Lang, copy these agreements into their reading/writing notebooks on the first day of class. If they didn’t have a notebook, they wrote the agreements on paper, and then pasted that page into their notebooks later. It’s important for students to start to internalize these agreements right away so that we can get that good momentum rolling.

3. Book Talks

Students should feel like the reading agreements are realistic before they can internalize and believe in their ability to follow the agreements; it’s my job to ensure that students feel capable and confident. So on the second day of classes I took all of my students to the library, one class at a time.

I had been in the day before and pulled different stacks of books from the shelves, organizing my stacks roughly by grade level. I pulled some that specifically were geared toward middle school students, and then some for my regular eleventh grade class, and another stack for my AP Lang students. But some of the titles can move from stack to stack, class to class, student to student. I don’t worry about Lexile levels or AR levels or anything like that. I just look for high interest books for a wide range of readers. And then I talk to my students about them.

Students brought their reading/writing notebooks with them to the library and wrote their Next Reads Lists as I presented the books. The books were passed around so that each student got to hold, feel, peruse, read, and look at each one. After about thirty minutes of being inundated with a variety of genres, levels, topics, and types of books, students were instructed to check out at least one book they were willing to start reading.

Many students chose books that I had book talked, but many of them went to the shelves and found something else. By the end of each class period, my students were reading their new books, which was the goal, of course.

Now that they have had the “book talk jump start,” they can begin to authentically work on staying true to our reading commitments.

4. Classroom Library

I’m at a new school, teaching new classes, new students, in a new country this year. This means I’m also building a new classroom library. My new classroom was a blank slate when I walked in on the first day, which meant I got to get creative and have fun with it.

One of the first things I got to do was visit our school’s book room. Together, with colleagues and coworkers, we made a plan about how to respect what other teachers want to do with the books that are there as far as whole-class-novels and shared texts, but we also made a plan to distribute the underused books from the book room to our secondary English Language Arts classrooms. This quick process didn’t cost any additional dollars, respected the work of the teachers who have been here and had made plans for the school year, and also made it easier to get books into the hands of our students. classroom library

I placed the books on the edge of the shelves so they are easy to see and reach, and used small white boards to display titles more prominently. I’ll rotate these displays regularly. The captions I write on the white boards come right off of the books’ covers, so I don’t have to reinvent any wheels in order to try to drum up some interest in these titles.

None of these priorities will be a magic pill or a silver bullet; there is much more work to be done. However, I do believe that these four priorities work. They are strategies and tools that I have used in the past, that others have used, and that students have admitted themselves that they have benefitted from them.

What are some of your “must dos” in your classroom at the beginning of the year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

 

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty 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 have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie