Monday, September 9, 2013

Life's Too Short To Read Books You're Not Interested In (aka: The Charts We Made Today)

I stood in my classroom at the end of a long day trying to think back to decide if there was anything I wanted to make note of to write about today when I got home. It was an OK Monday, but there wasn't anything that really stuck out. But as I looked around the room, I realized there was clear evidence of the thinking my students had done today. It was really only our 3rd actual day of class (due to testing and field trips last week) so we're still working through some of the nitty gritty details about books and building our culture of literacy in the classroom. So today was the day of charts. For some charts I have all four classes brainstorm and we add to a messy copy of the list on the whiteboard throughout the day, which I then convert to a neat enough to put on the wall chart later on. For other charts, where it's more limited what might be on it, I'll go ahead and attempt a neat copy as we talk through things (although I sometimes still have to make neater ones if my spatial skills aren't accurate for what I think we'll need when I start). Today was a mix of both.

First up was What We Think About When Choosing Books and Reasons We Might Abandon/Pause a Book made with my 7th graders and shared with the 8th graders (because for them it's review from last year). Both of these are discussions I feel are important to have in the beginning of the year with my classroom reading community. I have students brainstorm in groups and then share out as I messily write their thoughts on the board. Some items we have to discuss more, clarify, question, add to, reword, or combine together as we go. But I strongly feel that to be effective in our readers workshop and choice reading classroom, students need to realize there is a process to choosing books and we do put thought into it, we don't just randomly pull a book off the shelf. And they also need to realize that it is perfectly OK, and in fact encouraged, to abandon or pause books that just aren't working right now. I tell them that life is too short to spend time forcing ourselves to read books that we're not into. That just doesn't work for my class or my teaching philosophy. Now, that doesn't mean that you give up on a book forever - it could just be that it's not the right book for right now at this time in your life or day or week, and that's why we also have the ability to "pause" a book. But in order to meet the goals of this class (reading more!), they'll always have to have a book that makes them want to read during reading time, and if the one they have doesn't do that, they need to put it back and choose a new one.
I loved the ideas my students came up with - it especially made me laugh (and think of Colby Sharp) when one boy started talking about abandoning a book because it is too "girly" - so I had to ask him to elaborate on what that meant, and he said if it has too many detailed kissy scenes. [Granted, we did talk about ways you could work around that by skimming/skipping those scenes, and that sometimes boys like to read the books that tend to be more popular with girls because that way they know what the girls are thinking/reading about {which one 8th grade boy thought was genius!} but that could be a valid reason for abandoning a book.]

Our other chart today was made with my 8th graders to explain book genres. It was a way for me to quickly assess what they remember from last year, and they essentially made the chart that will be shared with the 7th graders tomorrow. Today was the invitation to the 40/50 book challenge day, so it was important to bring up genre and form. 
We, of course, had to discuss the fact that some genres combine together in a single book and that sometimes it's not completely clear where one would fit, but they're at least getting the overarching idea of genre and where things might fit. {We also got into a very interesting tangent about where various superhero characters would fit. When students could defend their answers, "No, Superman is an alien, so it's si-fi," I knew they were thinking.} It's another example of me wanting my students to have the big idea understanding of something in a way that will be usable to them, as opposed to needing to memorize a specific detail. I do think it helps them to think about books in this way because it allows them to look more closely at what an author has created to determine where it might fall. Ultimately, if a student can tell me what genre they would categorize a book in, and can defend that with textual evidence, that's where they show me their thinking, and that's how I assess their learning. 

We didn't only make charts today. We also did our Independent Daily Reading (IDR), and read the week 1 poem from the Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (which for various reasons is happening on Mondays for us), and we jotted responses to said poem, and we set up our reader's notebooks, and we laughed and made it through our first Monday and first school day on a regular schedule. All in all a good day in middle school. 

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