The first week of school is so important, so I’ve been thinking about how to make the most out of it–from the very first moment.
In just four days, I will stand outside my door, greeting students before they enter my classroom for the first time. As soon as they pass the threshold, they will make first impression judgments based on the way my classroom looks. Classroom arrangement is an extension of our educational philosophy. What does my classroom say about what I believe? I hope it says…
- Reading and writing are important, encouraged, and fun.
- Talk is necessary.
- We are going to laugh.
- This is the students’ classroom.
- We will be doing in this class.
We Must Read
One of the saddest things students tell me every year is that they used to love reading but not now. This stems from a variety of reasons, but whatever the reason, I want to change the culture of reading in my students.
- Students will create a “Books I Want to Read” sheet in their class notebooks (we keep our writer’s notebook and reader’s notebook in one binder).
- Start with a book talk: I’ll start with Gregory Galloway’s As Simple As Snow. From the very first sentence many students are hooked on this book. One former student recently admitted via Facebook that he “took” a copy because he loved it so much. I’ll consider that a win. Galloway has visited students in our county twice; mailed students additional clues (which I’ve kept copies for students); and created a website with supplemental material. (Side note: Book talks happen every week in my class. The media staff and I alternate weeks so the students are hearing from a variety of voices about a wide range of books. Other great ideas can be found here: 6 Simple Ideas to Get Kids to Read.)
- Speed date—with books: I will have 5-7 titles at each station. Students will visit each station for about 3 minutes, writing down titles of interest. Keep in mind that if I have 165 students, I need to think about the number of titles and copies of books I need so that 7th period has just as much and just as good of choices as my first period.
- After they visit all the books, they will check out a book. We will not discuss their Lexile score nor the Lexile scores of the books. This is about getting students hooked on reading, about giving them choice, about encouraging a love of reading. For a powerful conversation about students who don’t read on grade level, check out My Child is Not a Struggling Reader.
- Students will keep their reading logs on Goodreads. This will be new to many of my students, so I will have them log on in class.
- Freedom to abandon books: What makes me think that students who are not in the habit of reading are going to select a book they love the first time? Or why would I want to discourage readers from trying a new genre by forcing them to stick with something they may not know if they like? Students need to know that it is okay to abandon a book, but also the help to find a book they will like.
- Time to read–immediately: If students don’t have time in class to get hooked into their book, they are less likely to read it at home. If it is as important as I believe, then I have to make time in my class for it.
Bonus Read: Donalyn Miller always challenges me as a reader and an educator. Her post Patron of the Arts is no different. There is so much in this post that you must read, but here is a little snip-it: “Our teaching goals would be better served if we read the text first, enjoyed it as readers, and then reread the text for instructional purposes.”
Up on Deck
Our first unit is a memoir unit. These are the professional resources I’ve been reading to help me think through this unit.
- Linda Christensen’s Teaching for Joy and Justice: Re-imaging the Language Arts Classroom
- Colleen Cruz’s The Unstoppable Writing Teacher: Real Strategies for the Real Classroom
- James Fredricksen, Jeffrey Wilhelm, & Michael Smith’s So, What’s the Story?: Teaching Narrative to Understand Ourselves, Others, and the World
- Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing
- Heather Lattimer’s Thinking through Genre: Units of Study in Reading and Writing Workshops 4-12
- Jake Wizner’s Worth Writing About: Exploring Memoir with Adolescents