Get to know your library through book talks

One of the very best ways to spark and fuel our students’ interests in reading is to ensure access to plenty of high interest books. My students are lucky enough to have an excellent collection in our school’s learning commons, and in addition this fall we were blessed with a brand new classroom library.

While both collections are full of amazing titles and are a rich resource for my students and me, it’s challenging to get to know all of the titles in the collections.

 

I want my students to know and love our classroom library and our school library. It’s incredibly powerful to be able to put the perfect book into the hands of a student right there in our classroom environment, or to walk up to the learning commons and select something together. But before we can get to that point, someone has to really know and appreciate the collections.

While our librarians know the collections well, I also felt that I had to figure out the most efficient way to get to know the library collections and to transfer that knowledge to my students. Because what does it matter that we have a lot of books if the students don’t know what’s there? If they don’t know that they want to read them?

I think book talks are a great way of getting to know our collections. I know it seems counterintuitive – the best book talks are delivered only after we’ve read the books, because then we can do things like choose our favorite passages and explain how we connect to the text. But if you, like me, are given, happen to inherit, or in some other manner are responsible for a large collection of books, and for getting them into the hands of students, you have to realize that reading all of them before the book talks isn’t realistic.

Selecting new books off the shelf isn’t out of the question. Simply reading the inside flap or the back cover is okay. These book features are supposed to get a reader interested, and they do. Reading the first paragraph or page is also a great strategy. Think about Salt to the Sea or the Cirque du Freak series. Those first lines grab a reader and don’t let go.

“I’ve always been fascinated by spiders. I used to collect them when I was younger. I’d spend hours rooting through the dusty old shed at the bottom of our garden, hunting the cobwebs for lurking eight-legged predators. When I found one, I’d bring it in and let it loose in my bedroom.

From Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan

Guilt is a hunter.

My conscience mocked me, picking fights like a petulant child.

It’s all your fault, the voice whispered.

From Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I book talk two or three books a day, depending on what classes I have scheduled and if the first class checks out the books I’ve promoted and I need to search for new titles to talk up.

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I always list the titles of the books we’ve discussed on my wall so that we can go back to them and find them.

Last year I got to know our school library’s collection quickly by sharing books with my classes by theme. I grabbed multiple books that seemed to somehow connect to each other, and depending on the class, I would talk about a couple of them or many of them, but simply by talking about the theme and having them on display, often, even the ones I didn’t talk about would get some attention from a few students. It also ensured that within a few months, I had hit critical mass as far as knowing the books we had in our collections. Continue reading “Get to know your library through book talks”

On Being Vulnerable in the First Days of School

Tomorrow is my first day of school with students for the upcoming school year. My own children are entering the 5th and 9th grades, and it feels like a big milestone year. One more year with a child in elementary school, and the beginning of high school for the other. It’s a big deal.

As much as I’m thinking about how quickly their childhoods are going by, I’m realizing that parents all over the world are feeling the same way about their own children. That I have two groups of ninth graders starting high school tomorrow, and their parents are feeling that same combination of whimsy and excitement and “how am I old enough to have a child in high school” and “when did my baby grow taller than me” that I am feeling. Or at least something similar.

I’m thinking about how I’m going to connect with these students, how I’m going to convince them that they can trust me with their writing and thinking this year, and most importantly, how they will learn to trust each other in a reading and writing community of their peers. How will I ensure that they find my class relevant? How will I ensure that they become people who like to read, and who look forward to writing? And the ones that already do? How will I challenge them, nurture them, and help them to become more independent?

Last year was my first year of teaching within the workshop model, and my classes were focused on reading. The students had separate writing classes last year, but now we are combining them. I’m looking forward to this change; it will be a new challenge for me, and I’ll get to know students in a way I didn’t last year.

The change also means I’m studying Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them, taking lots of notes, watching the videos that come with the digital resources, and maybe I’m overthinking the first day or two of classes.

Better to overthink than under-plan, I suppose.

One of the things I’ve noticed is the vulnerability Kittle displays with her students. She writes about sharing her process, and not her final product. In her videos, she demonstrates asking students for advice about structure and craft in her own writing, and in doing so, models exactly the vulnerability and openness she wants her students to learn. Her students follow her lead, and they produce beautiful writing.

I’m going to be deliberate about following her lead.

I’m originally from Oregon, and for the fifteen years before I moved to Amman, I lived in the center of the state: in Prineville, a town of fewer than 10,000 people. Today happens to be the day of the total eclipse of the sun, and there are significantly more people than that in the area for this event.

Suffice it to say that I would love to be there to witness the spectacle of the crowds, to observe this once-in-a-lifetime event (I know there have been others, and there will be others, but right above my house?), and to generally feel the energy that comes with something like this. But I’m also glad to miss the crowds, not worry about running out of gas, and to avoid the traffic gridlock that has accompanied the scene.

Why does this matter? It matters because I will share my feelings and experience with my students. I’ll talk to them about the eclipse, which even across the planet they are certain to know about. But I won’t talk to them about the science or math or physics of it. I’ll talk to them about what it means to me. About how I hope my parents, who live in the middle of town, won’t go out and get caught in an hours-long traffic jam. About how I hope all of these visitors will respect the cleanliness and beauty that is in small-town-Central-Oregon. About how I am glad I am here for the first day of school, but in another lifetime, I’d be there in the center of the chaos.

I will be vulnerable.

I’ll share about what I read over the summer, and I’ll specifically book talk the YA novel I deliberately read about a solar eclipse: Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass. It’s a sweet story about three teenagers who are looking for their personal identities and might not even realize it. It’s relatable and relevant to the topic of the solar eclipse, and I’ve looked forward to sharing it with students since I finished reading it.

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I also plan to talk to my students about the reader’s and writer’s notebook, and when I do that, I’ll use the question in chapter four of Write Beside Them which says, “What’s in a writer’s notebook?” and includes the following quote from Sylvia Plath:

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I’ll ask students to respond to the quote on the chart, and to realize that they are full of experiences and ideas worth writing about. Worth reading about. Missed experiences might be just as valuable as the first-hand. That we all have self doubt, but together, we can find the guts to get past it and write.

I’ll ask them to contribute phrases from their own writing and brainstorming on the anchor chart so that we can refer to it and remember that we are all full of good ideas. We just need to be brave enough to try.

What’s different for me in this particular part of the class is that I’ll be writing and revising with them (beside them!), and I’ll write about the eclipse that I’m not witnessing, but that still somehow has an impact on me. I’ll try to link my writing to the idea that “everything in life is writable,” even including things that we don’t actually experience (like my eclipse!), because we are unique, have our own thoughts and feelings, and we matter.

I’ll write publicly, show my quick revisions, and deliberately model vulnerability.

I will try to validate their ideas through my vulnerability.

Hopefully this first class will set the tone for the rest of the year. We’ll do a quick practice of writing, revising, and sharing. We will ask each other for input, critiques, and help. We’ll celebrate each other’s victories and vulnerabilities, and we’ll learn to be better readers, writers, and thinkers.

Wish us luck!