Favorite titles of AP Lang and other 11th Grade Students

I recently asked my 7th grade students to share the titles of their favorite books of the school year so far. I asked them to do this in response to some posts I had recently seen on facebook and twitter asking for “must-have” titles for classroom libraries. I thought I would also ask my classes of eleventh-grade students the same question. I teach one class of AP Lang, and one regular eleventh-grade English class.

Here’s how they answered:

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Odd Girl Out; Broken Things; The Things they Carried; A Long Way Gone; Ghost Soldiers; The Secret History; Why Nations Fail; Sold; The Good Earth; Catcher in the Rye

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has been passed around by a few students, and they have loved it. I have one copy of it in my classroom library, and it sat there for months until I book talked it. It hasn’t spent much time on the shelf since, and that’s because a couple of AP Lang students have passed it around between them. It’s become a “huggable favorite” of one of my students, and her smile is wide when she talks about it.

oscar wao cover.png

My AP Lang students have such a diverse list, and I love that. They are willing to talk to each other (a lot!) about what they are reading, why they like their books, and why they think others should read the same titles! It’s developing into a healthy reading community, and I’m getting great recommendations from some of them at this point.

11th favorite titles
Sold; Burned; Divergent; Educated; Gone Girl; The Element; American Sniper; Playing for Pizza; Everything We Had; The DaVinci Code; Station Eleven; The Rose that Grew from Concrete; The Secret; The Mediator; Always and Forever; Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Eleanor & Park; The Unwanteds; Soccernomics; The Prophet; Six of Crows; El Popol Vuh; Ender’s Game

I love how this list represents my class of diverse readers and learners.

educated cover

When I was back home in Oregon over the winter break, a couple of people I have a great deal of respect for independently recommended Educated by Tara Westover. So when family came to visit us in February, I asked them to bring a copy down with them, and I wasn’t disappointed with this book.

I book talked it to my eleventh-graders as soon as I finished reading it, and it’s been in the hands of students ever since. In fact, as soon as I book talked it, it left the shelf; the book itself is provocative and fascinating, and coupled with my enthusiasm for it, my student couldn’t resist it.

My biggest take-away from these lists is that none of the favorite titles on the chart paper are titles that we read as a whole class. Every title comes from their own reading lists made from their own choices as independent readers. When students are allowed to have choice, that means they learn what they like, what they don’t like, and what they love. As readers, don’t we all have these types of preferences? And don’t we want to provide that opportunity to our young and emerging readers?

I’m happy with the answers my students provided for me and for each other. The lists are posted on our classroom walls, and the students can refer to these posters when they are trying to find their next books or add to their next reads lists. I can also readily see what my students are interested in, and what “like reads” I can add to my library, as well as check in about gaps that I can fill in for them as far as what’s available.

How do you decide what books to purchase for your classroom libraries? Or for book clubs? I’d love to hear about your ideas in the comments below.

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


Developing Common Language between Disciplines

I work with some great people. We are usually on the same page: we all want what’s best for kids, we respect and support each other, and do our best to communicate with each other. Even with all of theses good intentions and practices, we sometimes are reading different words off of the that same page.

Our school has set us up to meet as small groups every week in the form of PLCs. In my 7th grade PLC, we talk about students and curriculum, about days of service and classroom environment. Through these conversations we realized that we ask students to write similar types of texts in many of our disciplines.

While students are asked to write similar types of text, we were all using different language when describing and teaching it. While none of us felt that we needed to use the exact same language all of the time, we realized should at least make it clear to students that these writing tasks are related, and that they should transfer their new skills from one class to the next.

So today we created anchor charts for each of our classrooms. We gained new understanding from one another through the task, and our students will benefit with new clarity and understanding of vocabulary and writing strategies.




Our group represents four disciplines: electives, science, English, and Spanish. Many of our students speak Spanish as their first language, so between the fact that we have Spanish speakers and students taking Spanish classes, we were sure to include vocabulary not just in English, but also in Spanish.


Our final product looked like this:


We feel as though now we teachers, and soon the students, will soon be reading the same words off of the same pages, and we will have common language between our classes. It’s a simple anchor chart to hang in all of our classrooms, but it will be a valuable tool for our young writers.

How do you ensure that your students understand the relationships between writing tasks in different disciplines?

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.

Incorporating Drawing into the Workshop Model so that Students can Show their Thinking

Teachers are adaptive. We are always ready, even when we feel never ready, and we approach new challenges with willingness and enthusiasm.

Even when the changes come as a surprise!

For the first time in many years, I am teaching middle school. I’ve taught high school exclusively for at least fifteen years, so it was quite a change to approach these students. I have been giving it my best attitude, attention, and effort, but somehow I knew it wasn’t enough. A few weeks ago I realized why: I was trying to teach my seventh grade students the same way as I was teaching my high school students, only changing the content.

While I realized that I have to approach middle school students differently, I wasn’t sure how. They aren’t just little high schoolers. They are in a different developmental stage, and I have to be attentive to that.

One of my classroom mantras has been don’t share your answers; share your thinking, and when it comes to talking to high school students about it, it seems like they “get it.” That’s not to say they always value the thinking and don’t look for the “right answers,” but they do seem to mostly understand what it means. share-your-thinking

With middle school students, I don’t always get that same feeling. I’ve experienced that they aren’t always sure how to show their thinking, but instead sometimes tend to want to parrot back my thinking, or the thinking of others.

When we’ve worked in our readers/writers notebooks, I’ve also seen that middle school students often ask if they can doodle and draw. I love it when my students get creative in their notebooks, no matter what grade they are in. I just noticed that my middle school students seem to especially enjoy this activity.

That led me to realize that middle school students can show their thinking through drawing, sketching, and illustrating, in addition to talking and writing.

I am introducing the Notice and Note fiction signposts this week, and instead of asking students to write about them, I’ve asked them to sketch and illustrate them.

middle school drawing


The buzz in the room while students were drawing, illustrating, and processing the different sign posts was fantastic. While circulating the room, I was able to interact with students in a fun and academic way. I learned that middle school students love to be creative, and I was able to get a window into their thinking. That was before I even saw their finished products.

Students have illustrated a couple of the signposts now, and I feel like I am on to something. Students are able to express their thinking through drawing, and even think about things more deeply than if they were only doing the discussing and writing. The illustrating has increased their processing, and I’ll keep using this strategy alongside the writing, reading, and discussing. Perhaps every other middle school teacher on the planet already understood this, but now I do, too.

I’m going to add more illustrating and drawing components to all of my classes now, no matter what level they are, from grade seven to AP Lang.

I’d love to hear how others have reached students who are in different grades and levels. How do your students show their thinking?

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.


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

Unlearning old pedagogy in order to be a better teacher.

I taught secondary English Language Arts in the same wonderful school district in Oregon for fifteen years before I moved to Amman. For most of those years I used a six trait scoring guide for writing put out by the state education department for scoring student essays.

I wish I had an image of those scoring guides. They included traits like Ideas and Content, Organization, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Voice, and Conventions. These are all important elements of a well-written essay, and I didn’t spend much time questioning what the state required. I used the scoring guides without fail and without question, to be honest.

I left the state and left those scoring guides behind. I moved on, borrowed and created new scoring guides and rubrics, and didn’t think about the one from Oregon until last week.

Let me provide some context.

For the last two years I have had the opportunity and privilege to learn from workshop expert Stevi Quate. She will continue to partner with our school next year, and I have learned a ton with her.

I had an aha moment when she led our group to better understanding of the power of conferring as a strategy for teaching students to be great, confident writers.

That’s a goal-post shift right there: in Oregon, it often felt like “passing the writing so the students can graduate” was the main goal instead of supporting the students to be better, confident, and prepared writers. (To be honest, I can’t fault just Oregon for this – it was happening nationwide, and I think it was the trend of the times not too long ago.)

Back to conferring: Stevi reminded our group that it’s okay to not read a student paper in its entirety, or to even simply have a conversation about where a student is feeling stuck, especially proud, and to not read a line at all.

That was a shift from what I had done for the first fifteen years of my career. I had been a copy-editor, dutifully noting where students had singular-plural errors, underlining countless run-on sentences, and reminding students not to refer to themselves or their readers.


Stevi helped us to understand that our job in conferring is to offer a sounding board, to offer feedback, and to remind students that they have original ideas that are worth exploring and writing about.

We didn’t talk about rubrics or mechanical errors. We talked about writer’s craft, and we talked about the writer. The student.

We talked about organizing ideas, using mentor texts every day, and the craft and process of writing words that beg to be read.

We didn’t talk about essays and scoring guides.

That’s when I realized that I was recovering from fifteen years of my own learning that needed to be unlearned.

I had a scoring guide hangover. Continue reading “Unlearning old pedagogy in order to be a better teacher.”