Sunday, November 2, 2014

Reading is...

Last spring, during our poetry unit, inspired by Baseball Is... by Louise Borden, I asked my 7th graders to write a "Something Is..." poem.
After everyone shared in class, I was extremely glad I had done this poem with my students because I was impressed with what they came up with. An idea that allows them choice in topic so they can write about something they know + a strong mentor text = powerful results.

Of course, since they were doing it, I needed to also, so I wrote a "Something Is..." poem, too. When brainstorming my list of things to write about, the one that stuck with me the most was reading, so that's what I went with and let my thoughts and words take me where they would.
Reading is…
getting lost
in stories
finding an escape
from the everyday
Reading is…
having a fresh start
every time
I crack the spine
and turn to
the first page
with a held breath
of anticipation
Reading is…
finding myself
in the pages
of a book
discovering
who I am
who I want to be
Reading is…
getting my acceptance letter
to Hogwarts
jumping on the train
at Platform 9 ¾
finding friends
family
my truth
and bravery
in a world I didn’t know
I could dream up
that J.K. Rowling showed me
I can
Reading is…
gasping
laughing
crying
cheering
swooning
yelling at
rooting for
learning with
and from
the characters
I grow to love
Reading is…
fairy tale castles
summer at the beach
outer space
deep in the ocean
around the corner
far from home
on the other side of the world
mythical lands
adventures
I visit
through the worlds
found in
the pages of a book
and my imagination
Reading is…
writers who become
authors
with agents to push for them
editors to guide them
copyeditors to correct them
designers who create covers
publicists who tell everyone
marketing, printers, publishers
booksellers, librarians, teachers
friends all supporting
that book
and recommending others read it
Reading is…
going to a mall
The Exit 8 Big Top Mall & Video Arcade
open 365 days a year
meeting Ivan
and Stella
and Ruby
and Bob
and Julia
and George
hoping for the best
while fearing the worst
and holding back tears
of sorrow
and joy
having Katherine Applegate’s
words
touch my soul
and teach me more
about humanity
and kindness
and people
than I thought
a book could
Reading is…
the way I experience lives
hundreds
thousands of lives
beyond
the one I live
that I carry
with me
always
Reading is…
what I turn to
when I need
to be alone
to find hope
to get answers
to learn things
to take a break
to discover inspiration
to know
I am
not
alone
in this world
Reading is…
letters swarming
words swaggering
sentences slithering
paragraphs sailing
steadily across
the pages
Reading is…
late nights
when I
just
can’t
stop
turning the pages
until I can’t
keep my eyes open
any longer
struggling to
so I can know
what happens
next
Reading is…
covers and
jackets and
spines and
pages and
acknowledgements and
dedications and
titles and
blurbs and
stories
Reading is…
getting lost
being found
finding escape
discovering hope
opening eyes
seeing myself
experiencing others
knowing more
figuring out
Reading is…
what you make of it
when you embrace it


What would the topic of your "Something Is..." poem be?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

From an 8th Grade Teacher, My Hope for Their Futures...

My students were learning to write long off of an idea in class. As I sat down to decide what my model writing would be about, I looked around at my 8th graders in the room (who are in their second year with me) and realized that not too long from now they would be graduating. I took that idea and went with it, and when I wrote long about it, this is what happened.
From an 8th grade teacher, my hope for their futures:

I hope they will…

…find success, in whatever way it manifests for them individually

…reach for their dreams, but always have a solid backup plan

…learn that they are so much more than a test score

I hope they will…

…know happiness, joy, and love in their lives

…become lifelong seekers of knowledge, readers, and critical thinkers

…have grand adventures, whether close to home or far away

I hope they will…

…continue their education in a way that best fits their needs

…never forget the books we’ve shared and what they’ve taught them about life

…share their individual strengths to contribute to society and impact their communities

…hope for the best from, and for, themselves

I hope they will…

…strive for greatness

…surround themselves with people who care about them and have their best interests at heart

…reach their fullest potential

I hope they will…

…always find a book for when they need a mirror or window, to get lost or to be found

…make mistakes & then learn from them and do better the next time

…realize that friends may come and go, but it’s not the amount but the quality that matters

…do what’s right, even if it’s not popular

I hope they will…

…figure out what they want to do in life, but if it doesn’t work out, realize it’s not set in stone

…discover the right path for them, and then follow it through all the twists and turns while keeping the destination in sight while being willing to veer from the path when necessary

…appreciate the good around them and the support others give them

…rely on their core values to carry them through

I hope they will…

…remember the lessons I’ve taught them – not the grammar ones, but the ones on empathy, communication, respect, bravery, kindness, and how to be better people

I hope they will…

…believe in something

…be the best version of themselves that they can be, to create the best possible version of our future

I hope they will…

…come back to visit and let me know how they’re doing – just because they’ve left my classroom, doesn’t mean they’ve left my thoughts

I hope they will…

…not ever give up on themselves and what they can achieve in their lives

Sunday, September 21, 2014

180 #bookaday Read Alouds

*Updated September 2016 - See updates at the bottom of this post*

Because our bell schedule was changed in such a way that we were going to have 5 more minutes per class period...

Because my students' feedback at the end of last year overwhelmingly mentioned wanting me to do more read alouds...

Because I know the importance of continuing to read aloud to adolescents...

Because data shows our students need more modeling of strong fluency...

Because I know the power of a picture book...

Because my summer reflection on the previous school year made me realize that I usually started strong with read alouds, but then they tapered off as we got busier throughout the year...

Because I was looking for ways to continue to build a strong and caring community in my classroom...

Because sometimes a picture book can get the message across much better than my talking can...

Because sometimes there are things kids need to hear that a picture book can tell them...

Because I wanted shorter common texts to use as reference points when talking about writing and reading...

Because I believe in the power of a shared experience with stories...

Because it's a valuable use of extra minutes...

Because I can find titles that connect to curriculum needs...

Because you are never too old to read or listen to a picture book...

Because read alouds...

Because picture books...

Because humor...

Because community...

Because caring...

Because empathy...

Because #bookaday...

Because there are 180 days in our school year...

Because of all of that and more, I made a #bookaday goal to read aloud a picture book to my 7th & 8th graders each and every one of the 180 days I will meet with them this year. That doesn't mean we won't be doing other reading also, but we will read at least one picture book every day this school year.

I'm excited to see where this takes us.
After two weeks, I'm already seeing the benefit of what we've been doing...
...as the conversations increase in individual participation and level of talk
...as students refer back to picture book titles
...as my students learn authors and illustrators by name
...as they come eagerly to the floor for read aloud time each day
...as I see students' faces engaged in the story and responding with their whole being
...as I read more and more picture books myself to have a plethora to choose from
...as I find ways to make connections through picture books to what we're learning in class
...as I realize the multitude of stories they will have to pull from later in the year when responding to text
...as I see our display every day, knowing other grade levels also see it, and share the literacy experiences we're having in middle school
...as I sit for five minutes each day, four times a day, and share a reading experience with my students that they likely wouldn't get anywhere else

Our First Three Weeks Read Alouds:
Day 1: My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown (First Day of School)
Day 2: Flight School by Lita Judge
Day 3: It's a Book by Lane Smith
Day 4: The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
Day 5: Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison
Day 6: Pardon Me by Daniel Miyares  (testing day)
Day 7: Ninja! by Arree Chung  (testing day)
Day 8: 7th gr-Fireboat & 14 Cows for America  8th gr-September Roses & The Little Church That Stood (September 11th)
Day 9: This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris
Day 10: The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds (International Dot Day!)
Day 11: Picture Day Perfection by Deborah Diesen (Picture Day)
Day 12: Little Red Writing by Joan Holub (First Quick Write Day)
Day 13: A Book by Mordicai Gerstein (Genre day)
Day 14: Telephone by Mac Barnett

Next week I'm planning to read I Want My Hat Back & This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett illustrated by Jon Klassen at the start of the week.

Thank you Donalyn Miller for #bookaday leading to the inspiration for this goal in my classroom this year.

*Update September 2015*
The entire year went so well that I'm doing it again. I also had the opportunity to present a session about my #classroombookaday at nErDcampMI in July. The slides from that presentation are below if you want to see more of my thoughts after the whole year of a #bookaday picture book read aloud with my middle schoolers. As with any presentation the first time talking about a topic, there are things I would change for next time, but it's a start.



*Update September 2016*
Although I have now left the classroom for a role as the National Literacy Consultant at Custom Education Solutions, I was again able to present a session #classroombookaday at nErDcampMI in July with my friend Angie Huesgen, who is an instructional specialist in St. Louis, and adopted classrooms in her school to do #classroombookaday even without her own classroom. The 2016 slideshow is below.



With many other teachers wanting to participate, we created the #classroombookaday hashtag on twitter so you can follow that stream for more title recommendations for picture books being used with students. If you decide to try this, I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I Used to Hate Reading, But...(and here comes the important part)

Today I heard something disheartening to me. And it was enlightening and validating as well. How can that be? I heard a student talking about some things she had shared about me and my classroom and being my student. Her comment (here's the disheartening part): "I used to hate reading, (and here's where it gets better) but now I don't anymore."
"I used to hate reading." How many of us have students that say things like that, especially in the middle school years? Or maybe you've heard the ones who don't use the word "used to" - that's the part that made me feel better. At least she doesn't still hate it. The research is clear that early adolescence is when kids start to lose motivation and engagement with reading, and those years are probably when they most need stories that help them figure out the world around them.

So what can we do to get those kids to not have a "hate" for reading, 
or at least add in the "...but now I don't anymore" piece? 
Well, in my room it's a simple formula. 
I'm going to call it CATTT.

And when I asked my student why she said she doesn't hate reading anymore, she mentioned each of those things (in her own words): "You have good books and let us read what we want to." "It would be hard not to find a good book in your room." "You make us read." "We get to read in class every day." "My friends tell me about the books that are good." "You know what to tell me to read that's I'll like."

Choice
My kids get to choose what they want to read (for their level of interest and at or above or below their level of ability). That doesn't mean I don't push them to broaden or expand, I do, but within the limits of them giving it a try and they are always able, and encouraged, to abandon/pause books that aren't working for them. If they have an "off" day and can't face a novel, I have a shelf of 100 picture books they can choose from for that day.

Access
I have over 1500 books in my classroom library, and they are all displayed in categorized bins so students can easily find what they want. There are no due dates and no limit to how many they can have out at once (they often mention that's why they like my classroom). We also have a wonderful school library and book room that they use.

Time
We start class with 15 minutes of Independent Daily Reading (IDR) every. single. day. It is sacred time. The students know what is expected when they come into my room and get settled in and started in on it (most days) without prompting. [That is also time when they may be checking in/out books, logging/recording thoughts about a book they just finished, or browsing shelves for a new book or getting recommendations for a new book from someone] They also get more time than that on reading days and during twice a week SSR for 25 minutes. In addition, the only homework my students have is to read for at least 30 minutes every night.

Talk
We talk about books in my classroom. A lot. We talk about authors and publishers and series and movies made from books. We read aloud books (novels and picture books). Students talk to each other about what they read. I talk with students about what I read. They talk to me about what they read. We share book recommendations with each other.

Teacher
I am a teacher who reads and knows books and knows my students. I can't teach reading if I am not a reader. I push myself to read more every year. I wasn't reading 112 novels in a school year five years ago, but I did last year. That was up from 68 novels the year before. I see the difference it makes when I know books. I read the books my students would want to read. I read the books I think they may not pick up on their own so I can recommend them. I read the books they love so I know what they are engaged in. I read books that are ladders up from what they're reading so I can support them as they grow. I read. I read a lot. I have to. I can't do this job and break down or work against a "hate" for reading if I don't. Sure I have my reading slumps, in fact I just got over one last week, but it turns around. I recommend books all the time (to current students, former students, and adults). I have to know my students in order to recommend books to them. I also have to know a lot of books so I can make the match between reader and title. It is a daunting task at times, but if I'm asking my students to read at least 30 minutes every night, I should be willing to do so myself as well. And I love reading. My students see my passion for it. It's important for me to share it with them. And I know books. Blogging has helped me in that regard, and so has building my PLN of teachers and librarians on twitter. I have to know books to be able to know that book that will be the hook for that student. And once I have a solid repertoire of go-to titles that have broad appeal for the students I work with, I then have to help them find that next book, so I have to know more, so I read more.

So that's it. It's not magic. It's not unreasonable. But it works. Remember CATTT, and if you have that in the adolescent classroom, you'll be working against the "hate" for reading and growing readers who realize that there just might be something to this whole book thing for them.