Three Things Thursday

3things-thursday

#1:  Matt de la Peña: From Reluctant Reader to Best-Selling Author

In my community, we don’t respect males who are sensitive, but what these guys and boys don’t realize is we need it more than anybody. We need to learn empathy through watching characters in a novel.

Okay, okay, I know this is really a podcast, BUT it’s Matt de la Peña!  This is such a great podcast on his journey from a kid who didn’t want to read to becoming closer to his dad through books to becoming a best selling author.

#2:  Kwame Alexander on How to Excite Kids about Summer Reading

I have this mantra that I believe: Books are like amusement parks, and sometimes you gotta let kids choose the rides.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Kwame Alexander.  You can read the interview or listen to it or both.  Every time I hear Kwame Alexander I walk away inspired.  I love his honesty, his humor, and his enthusiasm.  Enjoy this lyrical interview!

#3:  My Big Fat Secret to Holding Kids Accountable for Reading by Justin Stortz

So I guess my big fat secret to holding kids accountable for reading is realizing that you can’t. Not really anyway. Teachers can’t make students read. I think kids need to know that. It’s what gives them the power and responsibility.

I found this blog post via another blog post on Read Write Reflect blog post which referenced Teri Lesesne’s blog post about student engagement which referenced another post on this blog post about reading logs.  I agree with a lot of what they all said.  Honestly, though I like a reading log; I keep one myself on Goodreads. But the reading log is for me — not for a grade.  All of these posts pushed me to think about how I can take away the artificial feel of reading logs and make reading (and reading logs, if you so choose) more organic.

Choice in reading–how, exactly?

2015-09-04 07.20.16There has been much written about student choice in reading–powerful, challenging calls to action from educational greats such as Penny Kittle and Donalyn Miller among many others. I highly recommend that you take a moment to watch Kittle’s video, Why Students Don’t Read What is Assigned in Class?, and read Miller’s blog post, Let My People Read, if you haven’t already.  Kelly Gallagher writes an important piece on combining choice, limited choice and no choice in Moving Beyond the 4X4 Classroom.

I’m not going to try to say what others have already said, and much better than I ever could. Instead I am going to try to show why I believe in it for my sophomore 2015-09-04 07.07.38students and how choice in reading looks like in my classroom.

One year, a group of former students came back to visit me.  During our reminiscing, they began to joke about how they didn’t finish reading the books we studied when they were in my class.  I knew something had to change. I didn’t want students to come back joking about what they didn’t read.  I wanted students to come back and talk to me how much they were still reading.  So I began to explore the idea of choice.

I believe in giving choice, because I know how powerful it has been in my classroom with my students. This year I have focused on giving students choice in reading and allowing them to enjoy it by not assigning a certain number of pages to be read, lengthy responses, or mandatory written reading logs.

Just in case you were wondering, my students are doing this reading as well as a lot of reading in class.  To date we have read and studied in class 1 children’s book, 3 articles, 10 complete short memoirs,  10 excerpts from books, 3 complete short stories, 3 poems, and 2 short videos.

Some of the things I have done so far to foster this in my classroom so far this year:

  • Students were exposed to numerous books on the second day of school.
  • Students have been given time to read in class, at least 3-4 times a week.
  • Students set their own goals on Goodreads.
  • Students log their pages on Goodreads, but they have not been assigned a specific number of pages to complete.
  • Students are given the freedom to abandon books.
  • We have Book Talk Tuesdays. Often our media specialist and assistant join us.  I pin the books promoted to our Pinterest page so students can go back and look (and I can keep up with the titles).
  • Students are surrounded by books in my classroom and have easy access to them. They also have time to go to the media center.
  • I post what I’m reading in the classroom, as well as on Goodreads. Students can always see what I’m reading and how much I’m reading.

I asked my students to complete an anonymous survey (via SurveyMonkey) to gauge how the students felt about their reading this year. (Side note: I foster a safe environme2015-09-03 22.44.33nt where I value what students think and real feedback—with each other and with me. I’m not saying they always tell the truth, but they know I value truthful feedback.) Out of my 151 students, 145 completed the survey.

  • 63% believe they have read more this year than last year.
  • 61% have read 1 or more books since the beginning of school, August 3. Of that 61%, 24% have read 3 or more books since school began.
  • 82% prefer to choose their own books; 3% prefer to have a novel assigned; and 15% said they had no preference.
  • 53% almost never completed an entire novel when assigned; 7% said they never read anything assigned outside of class.
  • 86% said choosing their own books encouraged them to read more; 62% said using Goodreads encouraged them to read more.

Some of the student comments (in their own words):

  • I don’t like doing homework assigned with reading because it makes me feel as though reading is something forced rather than something fun.
  • I don’t feel forced. I can read at my own slow pace and enjoy my book without feeling like I have to cram pages in just for a grade.
  • The book goals give added purpose for reading.
  • Please don’t choose my books for me.

  • I just wanted to make a point that Goodreads has been the most motivational thing I’ve ever used to log reading and find new books.
  • When we got to read the blurb/skim through the many different books in the library, it gave me lots of options and helped a lot.
  • Having class time to read to get me going in my book [motivates me to read]

While I believe passionately in giving students choice, I also know the challenges. I asked some colleagues (thank you Laura, Elizabeth, and Suzy!) to help me brainstorm some of the questions and concerns teachers may have when beginning to give students choice in the classroom. Below is how I navigated (and am still navigating) these on my journey.

Where do I get enough books?

I used a lot of resources. Garage sales and local used bookstores have been a great way to collect titles for my classroom library. I am particularly partial to the Goodwill Bookstore in our area that also gives an extra discount to teachers once a week. I connected with our school media center. They help me throughout the year by having titles available, doing book talks, and making the media center an extension of our space. It does help that my classroom is super close to the media center.

A colleague and I also did a school wide book drive. We asked different organizations, clubs, and sports to donate prizes. We received everything from t-shirts to tickets to games. Then we promoted the book drive through the English department and had letters to parents for Open House and community media outlets (see sample letter here). Students received a ticket for the prize drawings for each book they donated. We received tons of books this way.

How do I help students find the right book for the right student?

I don’t know if I can find right book for every student, especially early on in the year when you don’t know your students as well. I want the students to learn how to find the right books for themselves. I give them lots of opportunities to find books 2015-08-04 09.57.46through speed dating, book talks (and not just from me), and chances to peruse my classroom library, the media center, and Goodreads.

But what probably helps them the most is giving students the freedom to abandon books. Students didn’t feel pressured to pick the one book that they will like enough to finish it. They can try out a book, see if they like it, and then decide on whether or not they want to finish. For students to who don’t normally read to find a book they want or for readers to try new genre, they have to feel safe that they can try it and walk away if they don’t like it. All I ask is that they read 10 pages before deciding. Most of the time it only takes 1-3 tries before we find a book a student likes. One particular student from last year, it took 10 tries. But he finally found a book he liked.

Will students actually read outside of class?

Yes, most of them will actually read outside of class, but that doesn’t excuse us from not giving them time in class to read. If we think it is important, if we value it, we will make time for it in class. By the time students reach high school, an alarming amount of them, who used to like reading, don’t do it any more, or rarely read outside of class. Sometimes they just need the time to remember the joy of reading2015-08-04 11.12.34 and get hooked again. There are those who don’t like to read, even some who hate it. Requiring them to read, even a book of their choice, is not going to make them magically like reading. Chances are they don’t even know how to choose a book they like.

Just like I would do with any skill I was teaching, I am going to give my students lots of tools (speed dating, Goodreads, book talks, freedom to abandon, etc) to help find books and time to practice their skill (reading in class). I’m also going to talk to them about their books. I have reading conferences as often as I can with them.

What do I require of them?

There are a lot of different thoughts about this, and I’ve tried a lot of different ways. This year I had them set their own reading goals for the number of books they wanted to try to read this year. I asked them to update Goodreads once a week, but there were no requirements on many pages. Most of them update during class after we have read. I do ask that students read 10 pages before they decide to abandon a book. This is the least amount of requirements I have ever had, and it has been the most successful year.

When I required written logs and a certain number of pages each week, it felt more like forced choice reading—which wasn’t fun. Students often made up the logs right before they were due. I don’t know about you, but I hate assigning, reading, and grading work that isn’t real, probably as much as students resent it.   So I require that students always have a book in class for reading time. I require that they read during reading time. I require that they update Goodreads once a week. I require that they talk to me about the book. There are times I will ask the students to share in class conversation or in writing how a certain skill we are studying is being used in their books.

How do I hold them accountable for something I haven’t read?

Talk to them. You don’t have to have read the novel to talk about it. If you are a reader, you will know enough about books, characters, plots, themes, etc to ask questions about books you haven’t read. Ask them questions about their books—the characters, the plot, the title, themes. Have them show you parts in the text that are significant and meaningful. I find that when students know they are going to talk about their book, they read. Million Words Campaign has great resources conferring with students about independent reading and questions to ask (Making the Most of Independent Reading Using Student Conferences).

How do I hold them accountable? Grades?

I hold them accountable through talk, Goodreads, and asking them about how skills we are learning are showing up in their books; however, holding them accountable does not always mean grades. There is an expectation of reading in my class and tie to do it. Grades are something I am constantly trying to figure out and it is still evolving.

Right now, I grade on preparedness for our conferences or when I ask them to do a quick write showing how a skill was used in the book. I will ask students to do some written reflections on their reading but not every night or week. The Reading and Writing Project has a great resource of different reading responses that allows students to react to the text in a way that works for the student and is meaningful rather than having students write to a generic prompt. I’d love to hear your thoughts or ideas on this.

What if they choose something inappropriate (or that their parents deem inappropriate), but I didn’t know it was inappropriate (or that parents would see it that way)?

I try to handle this in my syllabus. I use the parent letter Kelly Gallagher shares in Reading Reasons. It’s a well-written piece to explain to parents the goals for reading and the purpose of the classroom library. I then ask parents to sign giving permission for students to check out books from my library.

I also ask parents to sign on whether they allow students to read any book they choose or whether they want to give permission for each book. Out of my 151 students, all parents gave permission to check out books from my classroom library and only one parent wanted to give permission for individual books. Find a copy of the permission page from my syllabus here.

Bonus Read:  Two Writing Teacher’s Dana Murphy provided a treasure trove of resources in her Back to School Post on TWT.  She includes resources for topics such as conferencing, conventions, minilessons, organization, read alouds, routines and so much more.  This is one to bookmark so it is easily accessible throughout the year.

Power of the Meeting Space in the Classroom

I was introduced to the concept of the meeting space through Teacher’s College work with my district’s elementary and middle schools a few years ago. While I was inspired and challenged by everything from Teacher’s College, I thought the meeting space was a neat idea, but a little too young for my high school students. A colleague reminded me of the research about movement and learning and challenged me to try it. So, a bit skeptical, I did. And it was pretty close to magic. It has evolved over the past two years into what I now call “meeting in the middle” Meet in the middlewith my students.

Here’s why I love this strategy:
1. It gets students moving. High school students sit a lot. By asking them to move to the floor, they are activating their learning. Also, they are moving away from the distractions of whatever may be on their desk.
2. It builds a community of learners. My desks are arranged in groups—small community of learners. When I ask students to meet me in the middle, the closeness of the class reminds us that the entire class is a community of learners.
3. It encourages a safe environment. In the meeting space, we listen and we talk briefly, only to practice what we are learning or to share out an example. It isn’t a place where students get called out or put on the spot. It’s safe there with us sitting together; it feels more non-threatening than sitting in the desks with the teacher standing above them.
4. It is a meaningful ritual and routine. Meeting in the middle is when we are learning a skill or listening to a read-aloud or something that is teacher-centered. Most of my class is student-centered, so this ritual of moving to the middle helps students understand the shift in behavior and listening they need to make for this type of instruction.  The routine is knowing how to do it quickly and effectively.
5. It keeps my mini-lessons mini. Students are only going to sit on the floor for so long. I have to be purposeful and intentional with my time during meetings in the middle.
6. It’s fun. The students love this throw back to elementary school, and I do too!  It brings something different to norm of the day.

The success of having a class meeting space in high school depends a lot on how you present it to the students. Here’s how I kicked it off this year:

I explained to students that research has shown that they spend most of their school day sitting in classes listening to someone talk to them, typically a teacher. They all seemed to agree on this point. I shared with them that one instructional coach found that this happened about 90% of their school day. Because we had so much to learn in this class, we were going to use movement to help us activate our learning and refocus their brains so they could pay close attention to what we were doing. Then, I called them to meet me in the middle.

I don’t doubt that some students internally groaned, but most were excited saying things like “I haven’t done this since elementary school” and “I hope she reads to us” — which I did. I shared the children’s book Courage,  then we turn and talked about how we wanted to be courageous this year. I asked for a few share-outs,  gave them instructions for their work session, and sent them back to their desks to work.

I plan to use 2015-08-04 14.54.13the meeting space for conferences as well. The open area makes it a great space to gather students for individual or small group reading and writing conference while I still can maintain a presence in the room during work sessions. I bought $5 small tables that I’m going to use as stools from Family Dollar (thanks to an elementary school teacher friend who posted this great find on Facebook). The stools/tables are stackable, so they easily fit under a table when they are not in use.  If you would like to read more on conferencing, To Confer is to Validate the Child offers a thoughtful discussion on its importance in the classroom.

Bonus Read:  I was really challenged by Used Books in Class’s The “So What” Conundrum post.  I will be using the So What? question more for reflection as a teacher and in learning with my students.


Follow-up on Day One Activity:

Although this activity is not perfect, it was so much better than previous boring first days. The questions and comments students asked gave me insight into their 2015-08-04 16.12.24personalities, their hopes and their fears. It amazed me that not one single class asked about grades. Instead they wanted to know about what we were going to read, if I was strict, and how we were going to improve their writing. I have to admit this activity made me realize what I thought students would think is the most important about a class was not. It also allowed for natural conversation about class instead of a formulaic spill about the syllabus. I will continue to do something of this nature in my classes in the future.

As mentioned, I chose to read the book Courage for the first day. It’s a simple yet powerful read that gave us the platform to talk about the courage we will need to examine ourselves through reading and writing and to share with others in our community of learners. When students shared out what courageous act they wanted to accomplish this year, several over the course of the day said they wanted to show courage by sharing in front of their peers. I had to smile, as I knew they had just taken the first steps to do that by sharing right then sitting on the floor in our meeting space.

Follow-up on First Week Impressions and Priorities:

2015-08-04 09.57.46I loved seeing students get excited and immediately wanting the book As Simple As Snow after the book talk.  For an important discussion on how we develop and protect students’ reading identities, see Stop Feeding the Beast–The Reading Myths We Pass on as Truths.  Speed dating with a book was a great success.  Students had about 70 titles to browse from various genres, topics, lengths, and levels.  Everyone found multiple titles to add to their “Books I Want to Read” list.  Now every student has a book in hand, and they had the opportunity to begin reading in class.  We are working on getting them signed u2015-08-04 13.07.45p for Goodreads.

I also had students write down the last time they read a complete book and their goal for the number of books they wanted to read this year.  I’m not really worried about what that number looks like, but I did want them to begin thinking about how they were going to challenge themselves as readers this year.  We documented it by taking a picture.  I plan to take another picture at the end of the year with their goal on top and number of books read this year on bottom.

First Week Impressions and Priorities

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.

First Impressions

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. What2015-07-28 16.38.13 does my classroom say about what I believe? I hope it says…

  1. Reading and writing are important, encouraged, and fun.
  2. Talk is necessary.
  3. We are going to laugh.
  4. This is the students’ classroom.
  5. 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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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 ASASbook. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.