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!

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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.

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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

Multiple Types of Assessment with a Whole-Class Text

I’m a firm believer in the power of student voice and student choice. When students are trusted and taught to make thoughtful, reasonable, and sometimes risky choices with their reading lives, something magical happens. They learn. They grow. 

But after a semester of embracing the concept and practices of individual student-led book choices in my grade nine classes, I decided to assign a whole-class text. It was time. My students were ready. 

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I assigned Of Mice and Men.

First of all, it’s a classic. Students are smarter for reading it. It feels like serious literature. It’s chock full of imagery, foreshadowing, symbolism, and injustice. Students feel emotion when they read it. 

Second of all, it’s manageable. It is 105 pages long. I gave my students eight days to read it. Books were handed out on a Sunday, and students needed to be finished reading by the following Monday. For some, that meant they could read it multiple times. A few finished it overnight and then got right back to their choice novels. Others planned to read fourteen pages per night so they could finish just in time. Even though they all read the same text, voice and choice were still built into the assignment. 

While reading the book, they regularly met in small groups, book club style. They discussed topics of their choice after making plans and committing to be accountable to one another. It was the perfect opportunity to introduce the Notice and Note fiction signposts, and many of their discussions were prompted with something they had noticed while reading.

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This anchor chart was posted during the two-week narrative unit when we read Of Mice and Men.

Once my students were done reading and discussing, it was time for some assessment. In order to prepare for the book club discussions, students annotated their thinking, their questions, and generally marked the passages that resonated with them. IMG_6061

The day that they were supposed to have the book finished, I collected each copy of the book and did a quick annotations check.

It took about 90 minutes to go through all of them. Our ninth grade team had decided to give some basic guidelines to our students: annotations should be plentiful, at regular intervals, show a variety in type of thinking & approach, and add original content.

We don’t ask our students to annotate everything all of the time, but because they needed to be ready to have purposeful and deliberate discussions with each other, the annotations seemed like a good call. After checking over each student’s annotations, I handed back their results and let them know that if I had under-rated them, they could confer with me in order demonstrate thinking that I had missed. This assessment provided quick feedback, and didn’t require a ton of teacher time for grading. 

If students weren’t happy with their marks, they were given another opportunity for learning and for demonstrating proficiency. They were given the option to read and annotate another classic novel within two weeks. They were also instructed to schedule some conferring time with me to make sure they were on the right track. Continue reading “Multiple Types of Assessment with a Whole-Class Text”

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, DID!

I sit here in the sunshine, smelling freshly cut grass and sipping my coffee slowly, back home in Oregon after finishing my third year teaching abroad.

I am reflecting on the school year. I think about the things I didn’t do, about what my students didn’t learn. It’s not the best mental space.

I don’t think I’m the only one with these thoughts. Some of us teachers sometimes suffer from imposter syndrome. We imagine we could have squeezed in more conferences, or if it hadn’t been for some extenuating circumstances beyond our control, we would have taught one more unit, and of course, whatever we did, we should have done it better.

I often feel this way. I wish I’d been better at assessment this year. I wish I would have held a few of my students more accountable, and sooner. I wish I could go back and have some “do-overs,” but of course that’s not realistic.

I think a lot of us teachers have these moments of self-doubt, and in these moments we forget about the successes we have shared with our students.

Instead of wishing for things I can’t have, I am going to try something new this June. I am going to think of the successes, the celebrations, and the improvements. My students grew, and I think instead of questioning this concept, I should attempt to validate it.

I think that’s what all of us educators should do in the month of June. Celebrations, small and large, should be spoken out loud, written about, discussed, and high-fived over coffee. We’ve all faced challenges over the course of the school year, and we have overcome. We’ve won.

Let’s talk about it.

I’ll start with some of mine.

Many of my students now remember what it’s like to be readers. They rediscovered that love within themselves, and they can articulate it. They smile about it. And they are grateful. It’s good energy to be a part of.

Many of my students have increased their text complexity comfort zone. I had one student who started the year saying his favorite book was from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Our teacher-librarian then recommended The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to him, which he read. It was his first book of the school year. He was in grade eleven.

Some time after Part-Time Indian, he picked up A Thousand Splendid Suns, because it was a book that I book talked to the class. He then read The Kite Runner, and didn’t stop there. His text complexity band and comfort zone expanded far beyond what he or I had hoped, and it didn’t take too long. He now says that he likes reading, but before this year he hated it, and never considered himself a reader. That’s a big deal.

I have several anecdotal stories like his. One girl reflected that she is now a competent, confident reader because of the daily book talks. She hadn’t realized how many great books were out there, and she didn’t know how to choose books on her own. Now she does. She’s a better student and is grateful to have rediscovered her love of reading.

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Another student has already emailed me about her summer reading. She chose 13 Reasons Why off of the Summer Reading Suggestions board pictured below, and listened to it on her flight home. She took the time to send me a picture of her progress and let me know that she is enjoying it. It my sound like a small thing, but I’m not so sure it is. She’s someone I haven’t had in class before, but our school culture has changed to one that expects reading from everyone, and she knows that her new English teacher thinks it’s just as important as the teacher she had this year did.

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On the last day of classes, I asked my eleventh grade students to do an impromptu book talk. I asked them to recommend a highlight from the school year, and to share it with the class for summer reading suggestions. I gave them a few minutes to prepare, and then let them start.

Each student immediately had a book in mind.

If I’d asked them to do this at the beginning of the year, I think only a few of them would have felt as confident with the titles they chose. As a class they organized the time and presentation order, asked each other thoughtful questions, and even referred to our anchor charts about what makes a good book talk. It was a fun and useful end of year wrap-up.

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Anecdotal evidence is good, but it’s also nice to look at the numbers. This was the first year our school tried the readers workshop model. By mid-autumn, all of the teachers in our department were all-in, pushing reading hard. It paid off. The circulation numbers in our learning commons went up by 76%.

SEVENTY-SIX PERCENT.

The teachers and students in our school should be proud. We should celebrate.

Students are using the library more than ever, selecting books, recommending titles, and best of all, they are reading.

There’s a lot to celebrate, and I’m going to do my best to focus on the celebrations rather than the regrets or the things I wish I’d done better. I’ll give myself permission to celebrate what’s good, and not mourn what wasn’t perfect. I’ll of course think about how I could improve the things that need improvement, but unlike other years, I’ll try to commit to myself that it won’t be my main focus.

I know that the school year wasn’t perfect, but the myth of the perfect teacher, the perfect school year, is just that: a myth.

We grow by reflecting on our mistakes, failures, and regrets, but we also grow by reflecting on what goes well, and what we want to repeat with other students and in new classes. 

So, as you reflect on your own school year and your own practice, I encourage you to remember the successes large, small, and all the sizes in-between. By focusing on them, we will gain momentum in planning for future school years, lessons, and interactions with our students. We all have stories like or better than the ones I’ve shared in this post.

Let’s focus on the positives, give ourselves credit, and share with each other.

Follow Julie on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Book Talks for Summer Reading

I wish I had another couple of weeks with my students.

I know that’s counterintuitive – often teachers are counting down the days until that first glorious lazy summer morning. We dream of sipping our coffee slowly, while it’s still hot, and of eating breakfast at an actual table instead of during the drive to school or even during the break between our first and second classes of the day.

I look forward to those things, too, but I still wish I had a few more days with my students to really get them geared up for their summer reading.

In a way, we’ve been preparing for summer all year. They have been developing healthy reading lives, learning to read independently, to choose their own books, and to have rich discussions about what they’ve read.

But I know summertime is when some good habits slide, when schedules change from week to week, and when routines can be scarce.

It’s when fragile reading lives can falter, and I want to encourage my students for just a few more days, reminding them that they, too, are readers.

We’ve focused on creating robust next reads lists, most often through daily book talks. We’ve book talked titles that can be found in our school’s library and in my classroom library. Books that students can have in their hands before the end of the class period.

But for the last few weeks I’ve tried something a little different. I’ve chosen books that we don’t have in our school library collection, and that I don’t have in my classroom library. (One unique aspect of teaching internationally is that we get shipments once per year. I can’t wait for next fall when we will get tons of new titles in both our school library and our classroom libraries! Waiting is the hardest part… but it will be so worth it!) For these booktalks, though, I’ve chosen titles that can be found in airport bookstores, in county libraries back in the States, and of course, online.

I have booktalked new-to-us titles that many students have never seen before, and they are adding these titles to their next reads lists, which they keep in the notes app on their phones. This way, when they are traveling, out of their normal routines this summer, and they find themselves needing a book, they can reach into their pockets and find those lists of books they knew they would like.

I’ve encouraged my classes to download the kindle app onto their phones and other devices so they can access books and read anywhere. I’ve told them that if they are traveling to the US, their local libraries will have many, if not all, of these titles. If they don’t have access to a library or bookstore, downloading the titles is pretty simple. It’s exciting to think that their healthy reading lives can and will extend into the summer months.

Continue reading “Book Talks for Summer Reading”

Some Thoughts about Voice and Choice in High School Readers Workshop

I remember when my school district was all about the Love and Logic model. It was the autumn of 1999, and it was my very first year of teaching.

We teachers were encouraged to offer “natural consequences” and to allow students an opinion when it came to disciplinary measures and classroom management. We were taught to offer choices to students, but choices that we adults could live with.

Love and Logic helped me get through my first year of teaching, no question about it.

I can’t help but connect the ideas behind the behavioral issues to those with readers workshop.

I offer choices to my students every day. I am transparent about it. For instance, I recently gave an assignment regarding their Week Without Walls travel. They were assigned, about six weeks or so before their travels, to read one text about where they were headed. The idea was that they would learn something new and have a more enriched experience while they were in a new country.

I explained to each of my classes that because I value choice so much, it didn’t matter to me what they read. Cookbooks, novels, travel blogs, poems, folk tales, memoirs, and most anything else were all on the table.

Because my students are expected to read at least two hours a week, these choices were absolutely okay with me. I knew that even if they weren’t reading something related to their travels, they would be reading.

Students ended up reading a variety of texts, genres, and forms, and we were all fairly satisfied with how it went.

The thing is, the choices I offered were choices I could live with, but more importantly, choices my students could live with.

I would have preferred that my students read longer texts like a memoir or novel about their destinations, but I had to be realistic about their individual reading lives.

Some students were entrenched in series and didn’t want to take the time to read a longer text between their preferred books.

Some students had healthy next read lists and didn’t want to prioritize something new over what they were looking forward to reading next.

Many students had valid reasons for not wanting to read a longer text, but were more than willing to read something shorter. This still allowed students to learn something new, and to create background knowledge about where they were traveling to, which was the point of the assignment.

policy preferenceSo as I reflected on it, I realized that my preference should not automatically turn into classroom policy. I should not only allow voice and choice when it comes to what they read, but in many other aspects of my courses. Continue reading “Some Thoughts about Voice and Choice in High School Readers Workshop”

ruBRICKS Part II – A Follow-Up

Blogging, writing, talking, being part of the conversation about what it means to be an educator in 2017, it’s all easier to do than to actually live it and breathe it and teach it. We can talk about theory, we can read our guiding texts, we can attend professional development conferences around the world, participate in twitter chats, and we can all talk the talk.

Walking the talk is the hardest part.

Theory doesn’t always meet practice. But we try. I try.
I recently wrote about the idea of rubrics

– that they should serve more as a foundation than a weight or a wall pinning students in. That they should allow for creativity rather than limiting imagination.

One way that I have tried to allow for student voice and creativity is with the most important thing I can help my students learn.

The topic is the habits of a healthy reading life.

If my students learn to read literary nonfiction, classic novels, and short stories, it will be fantastic. But it’s fantastic only if they actually choose to read these texts on their own. Most importantly, they need to have a habit of reading, to discover the reader within themselves.

This winter I realized that I wasn’t sure that my students knew what the endgame was. So we talked about it. We talked about what it looks like to have a healthy reading life, and we brainstormed the attributes of a healthy reading life.

I did my best to organize their ideas into categories and indicators that made sense. I used our school’s student profile to help with the organization. The six categories are Respect and Integrity, Global Awareness, Reflective Thinking, Critical Thinking, Creators and Innovators, and Communicators and Collaborators.

From that, I created a rubric.

I think the process for this rubric can be re-created with other standards and goals, and can be simplified to a simple yes/no checklist, or a one point rubric for student self-reflection.

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I know, I know… There are still problems with the document. But I think the point is that the ideas in it originally were theirs. The ideas belonged to the grade nine students.

While it’s an intimidating double-sided checklist in its entirety, it is easy to split into the six sections, which means we can examine just one section of a student’s reading life at a time. At that point it becomes smaller and quite manageable, and it’s not a brick wall of text.

I can print just one section at a time, and use it as an exit ticket or as a prompt for a reflective quick write. It doesn’t weigh students down when they simply examine only two or three indicators about their habits of reading.

The document still needs to be refined, and maybe all of the Common Core standards I’ve attached to the indicators aren’t exactly right; it’s still a draft, a work in progress. But this rubric, one that could be revised to a simple yes/no checklist, has been the catalyst for some seriously authentic and relevant conferences with my students.

Because I used their criteria and ideas, it’s not a brick wall, and it doesn’t confine my students between narrow rails. Instead, it’s a conversation starter, a tool for goal-setting while conferring, and it’s something that shows my students what to strive for.

It shows them what this readers workshop is all about: healthy reading lives.

I think the takeaway here is that teaching is always a work in progress, as is learning. Setting goals is important for students and for teachers. Creating authentic scoring guides continues to be one of my goals. This year I created one about the topic that I think is the most important of all – the healthy habits of reading. Next year we will tackle the habits of being a writer.

I will keep talking the talk – that means I am learning and reflecting on my practice. I will also keep trying to walk the talk, which I think has to include student input, because student voice is so essential to readers workshop, and is of course essential to building the habits of healthy reading lives of students.

We can’t weigh them down with our “help” – our rubrics and scoring guides should serve as foundations for growth, which is what I think this one does.
Nothing’s perfect, and we teachers have to be okay with that. We will continue to read, learn, discuss, and to walk the talk. Walking it and living it is a work in progress, and our students are better because we keep trying.


Originally published as a guest post on blog Three Teachers Talk 
Follow Julie on twitter @SwinehartJulie