Reflections on a Deliberate Closing Activity

Getting into the daily habits and routines of the workshop model has been a rewarding challenge. Making the time for conferring, for book talks, and for mini lessons was my main focus last year, and this school year is no different. All of the elements of workshop are important, so I am working to keep the daily agenda transparent to my students, and I am constantly keeping an eye on my watch in order to time my classes just right. It’s not easy to get the rhythm just right, but with time and practice, it can only get better.

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This fall I’ve been trying to follow the class agenda that is described in chapter four of Penny Kittle’s Book Love, and which is also described in Write Beside Them.

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One of the elements in her daily agenda is a closing activity, what I’ve heard her call Beautiful Words. So, I’m following suit. During the last few minutes of class, I ask students to share some beautiful words that either they read or wrote during the class period, and as we get more comfortable with our class discussions, I’ll add the category of beautiful words that they hear from each other.

It’s been a lovely way to end our classes. Students are learning that sharing out is low/no risk to them, and I think it eases them into feeling safe during the lengthier class discussions and debates.

They have shared words that they like hearing out loud. Yesterday a student talked about how she likes the way the word vinyl sounds.

We have shared first lines of books, and discussed how they hook the reader in right from the start. Yesterday we heard the first line from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Impromptu book talks have come out of this closing activity. When a phrase or sentence is especially intriguing, students want to know where it came from, and what’s that book about?

An interesting comment that came from our closing comments yesterday was about the book Girls Like Us by Gail Giles. Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 5.18.26 AMThe student who was reading it commented that her book is sometimes hard to understand because the characters don’t seem to be speaking “normally.” This comment took the class into a quick discussion about dialect, and strategies for understanding it. It was almost as though we had an impromptu mini lesson in the last three minutes of class. I’ll follow up and go into more detail later this week. We will talk not just about how to understand dialect, but what the purpose of it is, and why an author would choose to put it in a text.

After this quick interaction yesterday, I’m more firmly a believer in this particular closing activity. It’s going to drive one of our mini lessons this week, and it seems particularly relevant to my students. I wasn’t necessarily planning a lesson about dialect with them right away, but now that I know I have a class full of students who are curious about it, it’s a no-brainer. Of course we’ll study it.

The closing activity Beautiful Words is a great way to get to know my students as learners and as people, and it’s going to help drive the direction of our mini lessons. It serves more of a purpose than I expected, and I encourage others to make it a habit. It’s worth our time.

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On the Purpose(s) of Reading Conferences

I love conferring with my students; I find that it’s a great way to get to know them as people, as learners, and as readers. This year, I look forward to getting to know them better as writers, too. But it’s not easy.

There’s much to consider and so little time in which to do it. For example, we have many students, some of whom are reluctant to confer, and we have to make a bigger effort in order to ensure we confer with them regularly. We have others who are eager to confer all of the time, and we have to gracefully prioritize everyone. Conferences should be meaningful while lasting between two and four minutes. The list of conferring challenges goes on… I’m sure we can all make our own lists of struggles.

Last year when I started teaching with the reader’s workshop model, I did my best to follow the advice and directions given in chapter six of Book Love. It’s invaluable, and if you haven’t read it, do.

In that chapter, Kittle organizes reading conferences into three different types:

  1. Monitoring the student’s reading life.
  2. Teaching strategic reading.
  3. Helping the student plan the complexity and challenge of her reading.

I like this organization and approach, and I found it to be a big challenge to do it exactly as described.

At the core, what I do with my students is what is described in Book Love. I only slightly modified it, and I like how it works. Below, I’ll share my thinking on the different purposes of the conference that are described in chapter six.

To me, the monitor feels like a check-in. It can be done in an official conference, but it often unofficially happens in the hallways, the library, at the beginning of class, and when I read the words they’ve written about their reading lives. I overhear student conversations, I participate in class discussions, and I ask the question “What are you reading?” all the time.

So when I need to check in with a student, I’ll ask some basic questions like How’s this book going for you? or Why did you choose it? What do you like about it? Does it feel like a challenge? too easy? or just right?

If I’ve already had that hallway conversation or have recently read a written response from this student, there’s a good chance I’ll know already which direction the conference needs to go in, so instead of asking those questions, I’ll move into either a help conference or a push conference.

Before I get to those two types, let me just point out that sometimes the conference stays in that first category – it is simply a check-in, and if the student is fine, reading something that seems on point considering all I know about the student, then I move on. I don’t linger; I let that student get back to the healthy reading life that she has.

However, if an answer to one or more of the questions (depending on how many I ask) seems like something is amiss, I quickly decide if the student needs help or a push.

If the student is struggling, then I try to determine if he needs some new reading strategies, or some help. Then I do my best to deliver. The goal is to help the student create meaning and to make the difficult text accessible, especially when the student is motivated and excited about the book he’s reading.

Over time, when students have found success with challenging books, have learned new reading strategies and skills, and have read more words and pages than ever before, previously challenging books become easy. In this case, we move into the push category of conferences.

This is a good time to ask about next reads lists, talk about the progression of the students’ reading over the course of the school year (reading ladders), and challenge students to expand their comfort zones and to read more challenging books. Challenging can mean many things: new genres, new forms, or higher Lexile levels, to name a few. It’s a time for long- and/or short-term goal-setting, and to remind students of how far they’ve progressed. The reminder and celebration of the personal accomplishments can inspire challenging reading goals that the students believe they can accomplish.

When I was doing some thinking and processing about student conferences last year, I came up with a mini-anchor chart for teachers, or a placemat, I guess, which can be used when conferring with students.

It’s still hand-written, and I’m sure at some point I’ll digitize it. But at this point it represents my thinking about reader’s workshop conferring, and it works for me. I’ve pasted a copy in the front cover of the notebook I use when conferring with students, and it serves as a gentle reminder to me when I talk to students about their reading lives.

I really want my students to cycle through the help and the push category of conferences, because that’s when I know they are learning. They need help with difficult texts until those texts become independently manageable. Then they need a push, into more difficult texts, and the cycle repeats.

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I love Penny Kittle’s work. I have been able to take her ideas and use them directly in my classroom. They are practical and simply make sense. They also push my thinking and my practice, and are adaptable, as I’ve described above. I would suggest that Book Love should be required reading for all teachers who teach using the workshop model, even though I believe in the power of choice reading.

I wish that all teachers find success with conferring. I know it’s sometimes intimidating and can seem unmanageable, but it’s so worth the time and effort. Getting to know our students as readers is essential, and conferring might just be the best way of doing it.

 

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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!

On Being Public Regarding My Reading Life

Summer is the best time.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the fall. Really. The beginning of the school year is so full of potential and possibilities, how could a teacher not love it?

But summer is traditionally my time for reading. And I get to read whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. That is glorious.

Before I started teaching reader’s workshop, I didn’t worry about what I was reading. I read a ton of brainless detective fiction and thrillers all summer long, and I loved it. And I won’t apologize for it.

But no one was asking me what I was reading, and I didn’t have my students in mind. It wasn’t expected that I would talk to my students about my reading life, and even rarer that a student would ask about it. It’s wild to think about now; I don’t understand that as an English teacher, as a person who loves literature, I wasn’t a book pusher. I was an assignment giver. Erg. 

Things are different now. Better.

I’m a book pusher, and boy does it feel good.

Now that I’m teaching workshop, I can’t help but think about my students as I pick up a book and begin to read. Is it a great first sentence? Could I book talk this one? How about putting it on a themed list?

Which means no more mindless thrillers… nothing too gruesome, nothing that I wouldn’t want to go public about.

A year ago I might have balked at the idea of this – that I was supposed to report back to teenagers regarding my reading life.

But now, I can’t wait to share it!

I’ve read thirteen books so far this summer, and it’s only July. I could have read more, I’m sure, but some summers I’ve read less. I call it a win, especially because I can talk to my students about (nearly) all of the books I have read.

I started with Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton. My husband had read it and recommended it to me, and when I got to my parents’ house in Oregon, my mother recommended it to me. How could I not with these two recommendations?

I know I’ve got some students who will enjoy it based on the fact that they loved Jurassic Park and Sphere, and it’s nice to have that “in” with some historical fiction, which can be a hard sell.

IMG_1405Next I read All the Light We Cannot See. It was a book club selection more than a year ago, and I somehow skipped it. How glad I am that I picked it up and tried it this summer. This time, I recommended it to my husband, and he loved it too. I look forward to sharing this title with students – watching the different stories converge was both fun and tense.

After that, I listened to Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. It was glorious. I was on a five hour solo drive in my convertible, driving through Oregon’s forests and high desert. I know that under these circumstances, any book would be fantastic, but honestly,  this title is a winner. I’m more likely to recommend it to colleagues than teenagers, but I’ll happily talk about it with students. It made me laugh out loud, and it often hit way too close to home. It has one of the best first paragraphs I’ve heard in a while.

IMG_1490My next book was a YA, Openly Straight, recommended to me by my son. I’d wanted to read this one for a few months, and was happy to have a book to discuss with him. It is a great story about a teenager trying to figure out who he is and who he wants the world to see him as. Any teenager, any human, can relate to this struggle. It’s a beautiful book. I can’t wait to recommend it to my students.

IMG_1507Next was The Crossover, part of the Book Love Foundation Summer Book Club. I have to admit that I don’t always love books about sports, nor do I usually pick up books written in verse. This book pushed my thinking, and I look forward to sharing and discussing it with my students next year. Now I understand why a few of my ninth grade boys loved it last year.

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I read The Silver Star by Jeanette Wells next, a book I didn’t even know existed until I found it on the shelves of a used book store. It reminds me of The Death of Santini and The Great Santini, and I think it will make a nice bridge of a book for some of my students who loved The Glass Castle, and might be able to get into some of Pat Conroy’s heavier novels. What I love about these books is that I can talk to my students about the power of writing. These children grew up in wildly difficult circumstances, and through writing, they found success, they found their own paths, and are now respected authors, and most importantly, respected and loved humans.

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Since The Silver Star, I finished In The Woods by Tana French. I had read and book talked The Secret Place last year, and one of my freshman girls put in a ton of effort to get through it. I was proud of her and she was thrilled that she finished it. I look forward to talking to her about the rest of the series, and I think other students who love detective fiction will like this set of books.

IMG_1933After In the Woods I read Tigers in Red Weather, which was a really fun, quick read, and had some great nods towards The Great Gatsby. I also read spy novel Legends by Robert Littlel. One of my favorite summer reads is The Company, so I thought I’d try something new by the same author. I wasn’t disappointed. I also re-read A Prayer for Owen Meany. This is another title from the Book Love Foundation Book Club, and it shouldn’t need much introduction. If you haven’t read it, drop everything and read it. It’s that good. It also has a great first sentence.

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Orphan Train is a book I finished today and can’t wait to book talk. It references Anne of Green Gables and Jane Eyre, it’s a quick read, and super-compelling. The main character feels alone, alienated, and wants to find a safe place in this world. I think all of us have felt that way in one sense or another, so it will be an easy “sell” to my students.

I’m still reading The Liar’s Club. For some reason it’s a slower read for me, so I keep going back to it between books. Maybe it’s the thread that will tie my summer reading together, I’m not sure. I like it, and it reminds me of The Glass Castle. I think I have some tenth grade girls who love a good memoir, so this will be a great match.

The last book on my list is the one I probably won’t talk to students about. It’s Find Her by Lisa Gardner. I like the author, and I’ve read several of her books over the last few summers. I’ll keep reading her books, no doubt. But reading it also made me realize that I don’t want to read the gruesome, serial killer thriller type of book as much I used to. I like detective D. D. Warren. I like her back story, and I generally really like detective fiction. It’s just that I don’t feel as comfortable talking to students about it as I do the other books I’ve read this summer.

Here’s the hopeful takeaway from this blog post: As I’ve chosen books to read this summer, I’ve felt that I would be a bit more public about my choices than I was in the past.

I think the same is true for students who are in a reader’s workshop class, and that’s the really important part. Maybe it’s too obvious, but when people – students, teachers, whoever – feel that they are going to talk about what they are doing, when they feel that someone else cares, they are likely to do better.

Last year, I watched my students stretch from middle school level books to young adult books to contemporary fiction. It’s not simply because they felt a sense of confidence. They also felt compelled to share with others, and that brings its own internal push.

I’m feeling that internal push to go public with my reading life.

I think the workshop model does that to all of us, and it makes us better readers. It makes us better thinkers. By being better thinkers, we become better readers.

I think going “public” is going to be really important. I’ll be careful, respectful of my students’ privacy, of course, but talk is what it’s going to be all about next year. Talk about books, about what we are reading.

I think we should all go as public as possible, because our next reads lists will become phenomenal.

Reading as an Investment

While I’m back in the States for the summer, I’m trying to plan for the long-term future.

Eek. That’s always daunting.

It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking. I know that eventually I could head back to Oregon in my retirement years, so my husband and I are looking into buying a house somewhere in the state, knowing it has the potential to be a good financial investment, and could offer peace of mind. The problem is that no investment is guaranteed, but that’s what we all want.

As I am looking into buying a house, I am reminded of the recent last day of classes. It wasn’t the last day with the students I had taught for the whole school year; instead, it was a day when I got to meet with all of the students who will be in my classes next year. We had a special schedule with 30 minute class periods so that returning students could meet their new teachers and learn a little more about what next year’s classes will be like.

As an aside, this was my first experience with this sort of schedule, and I liked it. It was nice to see those new faces, and to be able to let them know what school would look like next year. It was a summer pep-talk, and I hope it worked.

Essentially, I talked to them about investments.

I explained that everyone wants maximum returns on their financial investments, but that there are never really any guarantees.

But, if they invest in themselves, returns are absolutely guaranteed. If they invest their time doing the right things, they will be happy with the results.

I talked to them about planning for summer reading, and that summer reading is an investment in themselves. I showed them a picture of my spring break reading list, and explained that I was planning for my summer reads in the same way. IMG_8719

I showed them the chart from page 136 of Disrupting Thinking, explaining that an extra ten minutes worth of investing in themselves, in reading something they enjoy, will give them the results they all want. disrupting thinking chart p 136

I said to them that someone in the world will be in the 98th percentile. Why not them?

One student asked me, “What if we haven’t really done any investing in ourselves yet?”

Fair question. He hasn’t done the reading over the years that he should or could have, but now he might wish he would have. I told him it’s not too late, but that he needs to actually invest, to actually read, and to start trusting himself that he can do it. I reminded the class that fake can reading feel good in the short term, maybe. But it doesn’t provide the satisfaction of actually reading, thinking, and feeling that we get when we do the actual reading. And it doesn’t give us the long-term returns that we all want.

I compared it to being tired. Sure, we all need a proper night’s sleep. If we don’t get enough sleep, it catches up with us and we might need a mid-day nap. What a person can’t do is say “I’m tired, can you take a nap for me?”

That’s the equivalent of fake reading. The only way to get the return on the investment is to actually invest. No one else can do it for us. You can’t get returns on investments you don’t make.

I think sometimes students don’t understand why it’s important to read. Sure, practicing reading makes us all better readers. But some of my students question the importance of being a better reader, and I think it’s a fair question.

Those reluctant students who haven’t yet discovered their own love for reading understand that they want to be successful in school and in life. They understand that they want to stand out above their peers, whether that’s in their classes, schools, or even on standardized tests that are given world-wide. That’s why the chart from Disrupting Thinking was so important in this particular conversation.

So the take-away on the very last day of the school year, and on the first day of classes with those particular students, was that investing in themselves will give them guaranteed returns. There isn’t much that’s guaranteed in life, and a risk-free investment sounds pretty good to all of us.

I encouraged them to check their next reads lists, ask each other for recommendations, and to keep investing or to start investing in themselves over the summer. I hope it worked!

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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.

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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”