Thursday, December 6, 2012

Writing with Focus

Have you ever noticed that sometimes your brain is so full of ideas, that once you sit down to put them on paper they come flooding out and the focus becomes muddy? For a lot of students (especially mine), the answer to that question is a big, fat, Y-E-S! Through the years, I have noticed that my students have great ideas, but difficulty sticking to those ideas in their writing. Or, they try to write too big, and the interesting fall by the wayside in an effort to get down the events that happened on a particular day. That's why I had to share the awesome writing project we did earlier this year. I would LOVE to take all of the credit for this one, but I actually got this idea from a coworker who had been struggling with the same issue with her students. 

We wanted our kids to be able to pick an interesting topic, but then narrow the focus of their writing so that they could add great details and be more descriptive. Often times, when students pick a topic that they have a lot to say about, the writing becomes too general and jumps around. We wanted the students to "linger" in a specific moment in time with their audience. To do that, they had to focus their writing from broad to specific. To help my students understand this idea, we first viewed the book Zoom by Istvan Banyai. The students and I discussed that the more we "zoomed in" on each picture, the more details we were able to discover. I then related this to a microscope. As you zoom in on a microscope, you obtain more information about your subject than you would have gleaned by simply using your eyes. This visual reminder helped immensely as the students began their writing projects.

 Image courtesy of
We started by picking events that we remembered very clearly. But, instead of writing about the entire experience, we "focused in" on a moment. It was challenging for the kids to not write about an entire trip or an entire day, but with some help they got there. I gave them a graphic organizer (see right) that was an upside-down triangle. I modeled the process of narrowing our writing focus with my own trip to the zoo during summer vacation. Rather than write generally about the whole day, I decided to write about watching the new baby gorilla playing in the pool of her enclosure. The narrowing of my topic went like this: Summer Vacation> Trip to Washington, D.C.> Zoo> Gorilla Enclosure> Watching the baby play in the pool.

Rather than have the students take off and start writing, we spent time developing good leads and then choosing the most interesting one. We discussed how to incorporate sensory language into our writing to help the reader feel as though they, too, we a part of our experience. We ended with how to write a conclusion, or "wrap," that tied back to our lead and brought our writing to a satisfying end. Below are some pictures of our final writing display, as well as examples of student work. 


I hope you find this post helpful and try it out with your students. Have you done any interesting writing projects this year?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Life's Been Great in 228!

If I could sum up the school year so far in one word, it would be...


This year I have committed to teaching reading and writing workshop and not using our county anthology. I am so fortunate to be able to have the freedom to make this decision, as I truly believe it is what is best for students. However, it is new territory for me (and many of my colleagues), so I have been up to my eyeballs in work. I know that many say reading and writing workshop seems like it would be easier to plan, but if you are doing it correctly it's really a lot more challenging (in my humble opinion). Although there are not as many worksheets/dittos/busy work, planning is based on the needs of the students and therefore requires frequent assessment and careful analysis of student work. So, not only am I grading my students' work but I am also frequently taking notes on it and comparing it to previous work. Despite the heavier workload for myself, I do love it. And the best part do they.

So, what exactly have we been up to? Keep on reading to find out!

One thing I did differently this year is change how I use my response journals. The way they are set up is the same (click here to see blog post about setup), but instead of the students writing about their independent reading, they write me letters about our read aloud. This year, I found a great idea on Pinterest to help me model how a well-written letter should look. As a class, we read The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco. (This was a great lead into R.J. Palacio's Wonder, by the way!) I wrote a letter to the students on chart paper, and then together we identified the components of the letter and discussed the expectations. This letter now hangs in the classroom as an example that they can refer to throughout the year.

I also gave the students "Thinking Stems" that I found in a blog post by Nancy at Teaching My Friends.   to help them discuss their thoughts about our reading. These are glued onto the very first two sheets of their notebooks. In addition, the students take notes in the back half of their notebooks that they then refer to as they write their letters. Not only is the note taking helpful to their writing, but they also use their notes to drive discussion about what we have read.

Character Study Anchor Chart
During the first part of the year, the students and I have been focusing on characters in our reading. I have taught many minilessons about the complexities of characters, beyond just character traits, feelings, and relationships. We have kept an anchor chart about all of the thinking we have done about characters so that the students may refer to it during their reading workshop time. It has been so amazing to hear their conversation about characters and see their thinking deepen in their work. I am so proud of how far they have come! The best part is now they are making tons of text-to-text connections because they have been studying their characters so closely across texts. 

Our growing list of character trait words!
A favorite activity of mine that we did was coming up with more precise language to describe characters. For this lesson, I started out by discussing the common words I see students use when discussing character traits (e.g. mean, nice, caring, kind, etc.) Then, I gave them new words and in groups they came up with synonyms, examples of character actions that would fit with each trait, and names of characters from books we have read that fit each trait. Then, as a class we grouped each trait into one of three categories: Positive Connotation, Negative Connotation, or Neutral. Now my students have access to words that are much more meaningful when they write and discuss their thinking about characters. And, as we come across new "precise language" about character, we add to our list!

 What has been going well in your classrooms so far this year? I would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

#WONDERSchools Blog Tour Part 2

So clearly I am a HUGE advocate for Wonder by R.J. Palacio...and here are two more reasons why:
(FYI: I got a little Natalie Merchant happy...but the song has a major tie-in to the book, so oh well!)

David Etkin (@DavidAEtkin), Sherry Gick (@LibraryFanatic), and I all cooked up a little scheme to further spread the power of this amazing novel. We called it "1-2-3 Wonder." Basically, we asked our students to answer some questions about the book using only one, two, or three words. We met via a Google Doc (which was a completely new and fascinating experience for me) to brainstorm some possible questions. As a group, we also decided to put all of our students' answers together in one final video. The next day, we met with our kids and told them about the idea. My students were stoked, especially when I told them that R.J. Palacio herself might see it! I had them write their answers on dry erase boards, and I photographed them with their responses. It was really cool to see them tailor their words to be more precise so that they could fit their ideas into the limited space they were given. Here is my group's finished product:

Isn't that cool???

Please check out Sherry's finished product here

See David's video here

Here is the compilation of all of our classes together:

I really enjoyed collaborating with both David and Sherry. Good things always result from passionate teachers putting their heads together to come up with something fantastic for their students to do. 

I love Wonder is because I believe it has the power to bring kids together and set aside their differences. As part of the #WONDERSchools blog tour, I read a post written by the mother of a little boy with a craniofacial condition. What really touched me was how many similarities he had to Auggie. One difference, though, was this little boy (Peter) had never been given a standing ovation. I knew once I shared Peter's story with my kids, they'd want to do something about that! Here was their response to Peter's mom's blog post:

As son as the school day ended, I hopped on Twitter and sent our video to Peter's mom so that she could share it with him. I heard back from her not long after I "tweeted" her the link to our video. She said that Peter was "speechless," and she had been moved to tears...all from one simple act of kindness inspired by Wonder

I implore you, share this book with as many children as you can. Just imagine: if every child in the world read this book and felt its impact, what kind of tomorrow they would work together to create? 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

#WONDERschools Blog Tour

Have you heard of it? Better yet, have you read it? Do you know the wonder that is Wonder by R.J. Palacio?

Wonder is one of 2012's hottest novels by first-time author R.J. Palacio. Teachers, students, librarians, and kid's lit lovers alike are singing the praises of this WONDERful book. Don't believe me? Try following some of the many hashtags that have popped up all over Twitter (# WonderofWONDER, #WONDERschools, to name a few) and you will find hundreds of people chatting about this powerful book.

I first read Wonder as an Advanced Reader's Copy that I obtained form NetGalley. I was hooked. I read it in two days, barely able to pull myself away from the computer screen on which I was reading it. As soon as I read the last sentence on the last page, I knew that this book HAD to be shared with as many children as I could reach. It was the last novel I read to both of my reading and language arts classes last year. It was the perfect way to end the year before I sent them out into the world beyond elementary school. We made wonderful memories as we discussed the book using a mixture of the questions my students came up with, some of my own, and the ones provided on R.J. Palacio's website. We wrote about it. We cried over it. We loved it.

(**Spoiler Alert** Below is the "flipchart" I used with my students. Some of the questions reveal key events in the story and may spoil it for you if you haven't read it yet...which you need to!)
Wonder Questions

This year, I decided to read Wonder with my kids at the beginning of the year. My hope was that it would help build up our classroom community. I decided that by reading it at the beginning of the year, the impact would not only carry into their lives outside of school, but inside as well. Typically I allow my students to vote for their read aloud, but this year I decided this one was too important to potentially pass up.

Every day my students eagerly enter the classroom after specials, grab their response journals, and form a circle on the carpet. I decided to sit with my students on the floor, not above them on my "teacher chair," this year. I can see them, hear them, and look at what they are writing/sketching in their notebooks. We reserved the back half of the students' journals for notes. After previewing Wonder (using the front and back covers, inside flap, and first chapter), the kids thought about what they wanted to focus on as we read. Some chose how the song quotes connected to each character's part, others were interested in tracking how August (the main character) dealt with being in school for the first time. The students then designed their own note-taking sheets, which they use and refer to when writing letters to me about our read aloud. I have been so amazed at my students' honesty and empathy as I read their entries.

I love sharing this book with my students. It brings us together as a community and helps them understand the effect their actions, both good and bad, can have on others. They see connections between the characters we are reading about, and characters in their independent reading. Wonder is a great tool for teaching empathy, but it is also great literature. I use it to model skills and strategies I want my students to use in their own reading and writing. I am so grateful to R.j. Palacio for giving me such an invaluable resource to use in my classroom. I know Auggie will stay with all of us forever.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What a Year So Far!

Hi followers! It's been a long time! This school year is off to a great start so far...but it has been busy busy busy! I am currently in the throws of a full fledged reading and writing workshop. I have been doing a lot of reading and research to help guide me, but I am still trying to figure out so much. 

I am enjoying tailoring my teaching to my students' needs based on what I am seeing in their work, and I have found that this new model for teaching is giving me a lot more time for conferring with students. In the past four weeks, I have gotten to know my students' strengths and weaknesses and am already planning on how to better meet their needs through small groups and one-on-one teaching. 

The best part is that I have the full support of my principal, who is very excited about me trying out this new teaching style. I am the first person in my school to completely abandon the anthology. It's sort of scary to not have the assurance of a pre-planned curriculum, but I feel like I have found a lot of support via Twitter. 

Last school year, I implemented some pieces of the reading and writing workshop and saw so much growth in my students. I can only imagine what I will see by the end of this school year. For those of you who are interested in looking into the reading and writing workshop, here are some resources I have found the most helpful:

Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas and Pinnell has a ton of information about implementing the reading and writing workshop. The book includes mini-lessons to help guide beginners in launching the workshop, along with images of anchor charts that I have found very helpful.

Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop by Franki Sibberson helped ease many of my fears when deciding to venture into the world of reading and writing workshop. Franki explains how to use student work, class discussions, and conferences to drive instruction. Reading this book helped me see all the different methods I could use to assess my students and gather data. There are student work samples and forms to help get you started, too!

I also downloaded a digital book by Lucy Calkins called A Curricular Plan for the Reading Workshop from the Heinemann website. This is a great tool to help provide a scope and sequence for the year. One of the most intimidating factors for making the switch to reading workshop was not knowing what units to teach and how to teach them. Let's face it, that's what makes anthologies so convenient. They tell you what stories to teach, and what skills to teach with them. This book Gives you a month by month sequence you can use to plan instruction. Calkins also provides teaching points to cover within each unit of study. There are not any actual "lesson plans," but I like that. It is up to me to figure out what is best for my students, but I like having a resource that will help provide some structure. Heinemann also has the same type of resource for writing workshop, and both resources can be found for any grade level. 

Well, that's all for now. I am still fine tuning and researching. This is going to be quite a big year for me, but I am feeling very excited and energized about this new adventure. I can't wait to see my students grow and thrive in an environment that is catered to each of their individual needs. 

Who else is using this structure for teaching language arts? What are some of your favorite resources that you use? I can't wait to hear from you all!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

2012-2013, Here We Come!

I am heading back to school this Monday for the teachers' week back. As I stated in my last post, I have not and do not plan on purchasing a lot of new materials for my room this year. I am going to make a few things (one of which includes a neat Boggle bulletin board) and change up my set up a bit, but other than that not much room decorating going on this leas that's the plan for now! My real focus during the next week is going to be planning the first week back and making some changes to the way my classroom will be run.

I am tired of giving my students a bunch of busy work on the first day/during the first week. I know this time should be spent teaching routines and such, but I know there has to be a more enjoyable and productive way. I want to hook them in the first week! I have a found a few ideas, but I am looking for more and I am sure that other teachers out there are, too! So...let's share! 

Here are some things I found that I may want to try during the first week:

This site is GREAT! There are tons of activities that you can use to help build team spirit in your classroom. What better way to start off the year than to challenge kids to work together and get to know one another in a positive way. I really like the idea of our classroom becoming a family, and I think activities like these are the ticket! 

2. R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Last year, our school implemented a school-wide "respect project." I would not describe our school as one with a great deal of behavior challenges, but there is always room for improvement, right? We felt that by encouraging our kids to be more respectful, we were setting them up for life-long success. I think talking about respect and creating an anchor chart like this one will help set the tone for the year. Some of the ideas we covered as a school last year came from The Essential 55 by Ron Clark. These are basically behaviors that should be expected of all students. We did not do all 55, but selected 10 that we felt were the most important. I found a shortened version of these expectations here

3. Find out THEIR expectations
I like the ideas I found on Mrs. Robinson's Classroom Blog, specifically her activity that asked students to think about their ides to help their classroom run smoothly. I love the charts she created with her students in this team activity. 

That's all I have so far. Please let us all know what you are doing for the first week back by linking your blog below, or just leave a comment! The more ideas the better! 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer in a Nutshell

Wow! This has been a busy summer for yours truly. I am officially on my last week of freedom summer vacation. I cannot believe how fast it always goes. I am happy to say that I did make a dent in My Summer Bucket List, though. Here is one of the crocheted creations I made (for my husband):
It's a Narwhal!
My husband is quite the collector of random things.
Mr. Narwhal got a prime spot, though!
I didn't do as much reading as I wanted to, but I did read a few books. My students,on the other hand, did a great job with the online book club. Or course I did not get 100% participation, but the fact that a good handful frequently posted and kept me up-to-date on their reading is more than I could have asked for. Hopefully if I hype it up more at the end of this school year it will be even more successful! 

My husband and I took a fun trip to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. I simply LOVE that zoo. We had a blast! And...I found some friends to create a book display for one of my favorite books from last year, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (the author we skyped with!).
It's Ivan and Ruby!

I tried a lot of new recipes, but here are some favorites that will work their way into the school year, too:
Southwestern Stuffed Chicken
Stuffed Spaghetti Squash
 Both were SUPER easy and pretty healthy. Bonus: My husband liked them! That is not an easy thing to accomplish!

I spent a lot of time with friends, and am actually having one last "hurrah" before going back to school. What are we doing, you ask? We're having a Pinterest dinner party! Each of us is bringing a dish we found on our beloved Pinterest. I encouraged the girls to bring things that they wanted to try, but knew hubbies might not like. Mine is Mac and Cheese with Roasted Chicken, Goat Cheese, and Rosemary. I cannot wait!

Now that summer has come to an end, I promise you will see more of me. I had a hard time thinking of what to blog about when I didn't do anything teacher related. Speaking of which, what are some things you would like to see more posts about? Knowing what you like reading will help me make my blog more of a valuable resource to you, my readers.

By the way...I have officially been a blogger for one year! Woo-hoo!!! Bring on the 2012-2013 school year!

Stay tuned for a post about first week of school ideas!

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Hello. My name is Mrs. P and I am...a Pinterest addict.

*phew* I am glad that is off my chest! I have a feeling there are a lot more like me out there, though! Am I right?!?

This summer, I have spent a ridiculous amount of time pinning everything from hair and makeup tips that will hopefully speed up my morning routine, to bento box ideas for lunches (because who doesn't want a more enjoyable lunch?!?). Along with the insane amount of uselessful home and lifestyle ideas I have pinned, I have gone absolutely bonkers with school ideas. These range from decor inspiration to actual lessons and teaching methods I want to try out.

And while I have come across a TON of wonderful ideas, I am at the point of feeling extremely overwhelmed! How on EARTH am I going to implement all of these fantastic ideas in one school year without pulling my hair out (and thus, defeating the purpose of the hair care pins)??? If you are anything like me, you have probably come to the realization that it's just not possible. And, if we are really kindred spirits, your feeling a little bit anxious about it.

But don't fret, where there is a will there is a way!

Here is my plan: I am going to pick five ideas (out of the 300 plus I have pinned) to focus on. If they go smoothly, I may add more. Now the tricky part is narrowing all of those ideas down to five...

You all will be the FIRST ones to know when I make my choices, so stay tuned!

Now your turn:

Tell me at least one idea you have found (on Pinterest or elsewhere) that you will definitely be trying out in your classroom this year. Please provide the link if possible...just in case we would like to pin it.


P.S. I just HAD to share this yummy dinner I made with you (recipe courtesy guessed it...PINTEREST!) It was so easy and SO delicious! Click here to hop over to the blog that it was originally pinned from to try it out for yourself!

Stuffed Spaghetti Squash...very low carb and VERY yummy!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Brain Breaks

Brain breaks will help kids recharge and refocus!
I was chatting with a good friend (and colleague) of mine about the things we want to try next year. One idea of hers was to periodically give her students a "brain break" throughout class time when she sees they are dragging, or if they have been working diligently for extended periods of time and just need a quick breather. I think this is a great idea for all children, but I also know it will greatly benefit those with attention disorders such as ADD or ADHD. Not only will it let them get rid of some of their energy that they struggle with during lessons and work time, but it will also give their brains a mini-vacation from school (which we all know they desperately need from time to time).

It might also be a good tool for classroom management. If one were to come up with enough break ideas, they could be written down and placed in a jar. Perhaps a student who stands out as doing an excellent job could pick the next break from the jar and lead it. Or, perhaps they could just name a favorite. With the idea of taking several a day, it's a great way to recognize more than one student as well as provide them with something that isn't gimmicky (like candy, prize box items, etc.). ]

Here are some break  ideas we talked about so far:

  • Yoga- do a quick pose or two to help students refocus
  • 1 or 2 minute dance party- throw on some kid friendly music and jam
  • Silent ball- spend a few minutes playing a quick game where students sit on desks and pass a foam ball around the room. As the name suggests, students don't talk during this game or they are out. 
  • Doodle- Kids love to draw, so let them! Give them 5 minutes to whip out some paper and doodle like crazy. 
  • Simon Says- Play simon says and practice those listening skills! Even though they won't admit it, I am pretty sure the older ones will enjoy this.
  • Play a game on the white board- not sure what games could incorporate the entire class, but I am sure we'll come up with a few.

That's all we thought of so far. It's a good start, but I would like a lot of ideas to choose from to keep it interesting. 

Please share any ideas you have, and I will compile them into a list and share it with you at the end of the summer for you to try in your classrooms. If you know anyone who is a creative thinker, or already uses this strategy in their room, please pass along a link to this post...I would love to hear form as many people as possible!

Monday, June 18, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/18/12

A weekly meme hosted by Teach Mentor Texts

This week I finished reading Insurgent by Veronica Roth. This was the second book of the DIvergent Trilogy. I feel like Roth really hit her stride with the second book. While the first one was very good, this one was, in my opinion, much better. The only downside is the cliffhanger ending...because now I have to wait with bated breath for the third book to hit shelves. I highly recommend this series if you enjoyed The Hunger Games Trilogy (the BOOKS, not just the movie). However, I think it is more appropriate for an older crowd as it is definitely YA and above in terms of content.

This week I am going to start working on The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan. This book is the first of the Heroes of Olympus series. I am told that although there are new characters, Riordan refers back to the Percy Jackson series and ties it into the new series. I did not finish reading all of those books, so I may have to abandon it if I feel lost...we'll see! What great books are you reading?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

A weekly meme hosted by Teach Mentor Texts

Last week marked the end of the school year, which meant I was VERY busy. Cleaning, packing, working on report cards, etc. Needless to say, my reading life took a hit. However, this weekend we threw in a day trip to NYC, so I got a lot of reading done on the bus. I read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. I really enjoyed this book. I saw a lot of similarities between this and Wonder by R. J. Palacio.I appreciated the novel's take on students with disabilities, and how much we as educators may underestimate their true abilities. I also enjoyed the realness. Overall, a great read.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer Treat for My Bookworms

Just wanted to write a quick post to share what I gave my students as their goodbye treat. I sort of tweaked and combined ideas from Pinterest. Each student got a bog of "bookworms" (a.k.a. gummy worms), two freeze pops, and a bookmark. My parent helper made up the labels for the bookworms which read "Have a cool summer, bookworms! Love, Mrs. P."She also assembled all of the little goodies, and I think they turned out great! I usually don't give "goodbye gifts," but this was a particularly special year for me, so I did. I will definitely be doing this again next year!

Original bookworm idea
Do you have a summer gift you typically give students? I'd love to read about it!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer Reading

It is so hard to say goodbye to our students. We spend so much of our waking hours with them for so many months that they become like family. This year, I decided my teaching wasn't going to end at the sound of the dismissal bell on the last day of school. After chatting with some of my Twitter faves, I decided to facilitate an online  Summer Book Club through Edmodo, a popular educational site than can be likened to Facebook for the classroom.

I launched the book club by first talking to my kids about how much they can benefit from reading just a few books over the summer. I started cautiously by recommending two to three. Their response was "We can probably read more than that!" Then, I shared a book list that I compiled for them. This list is made up of books I have enjoyed, books I have watched some of them enjoy, and recommendations from my fellow educators. I tried to stray from "classics" because, let's face it, those don't always get kids excited about reading. I wanted books they could relate to and really enjoy.

Here's my list:

Next, we talked about how to find out more about the books on the list. I showed the students two great sites for book reviews written for kids: Spaghetti Book Club and KidsReads. I had them look up a few and start making some plans for their summer reading.

After that, we logged into Edmodo and set up our student accounts. This is really easy for both the teacher and student to do. They were so excited! We made sure to go over some guidelines, first, and then I set them loose! Here are the results so far:

I can't wait to chat with them over the summer about their books. Turns out the last day doesn't mean goodbye forever!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

To Fail, Or Not to Fail...

Ever since my first year as a teacher, I have been assigning students grades for their class work, homework, tests and quizzes. It is logical to do so, right? After all, I received grades for my work growing up. However, as I do more and more professional reading and networking, my views on the traditional grading system are beginning to shift. This is not a small shift, but an epic, monumental, cosmic shift. One in which I feel like beating my head against a wall and exclaiming "What have I been doing to these poor children for all of these years?!?!?!?"

If you follow some of the same people as I do on Twitter, or have joined many educational blogs, you may have had the same seed planted in your own brain. The two questions that are battling it out in my brain are these: Are the grades I assign truly providing feedback and inspiring students to learn, grow,  and improve? OR Am I simply punishing them?

These are difficult questions to not only think about, but to try and find answers to. Many teachers that I have spoken with have a very hard time understanding why I am questioning this system. Not only that, but something I often hear is: "But if you don't give grades, how will parents know what their children are struggling with?" What I wonder is this: Do the grades we give really provide parents with accurate information about their child's learning?  Not only that, but am I alone in feeling like my time would be better spent giving written or verbal feedback about content of work instead of busying myself with trying to assign a numerical value to it? Not to mention the hours spent entering grades!

I am not saying this system is "wrong." I am just wondering if it is what is "best" for our children. I dread passing back papers, handing out progress reports and report cards. The look on the faces of some of my students is devastating. If I feel this way, how do THEY feel? 

I don't have the answers when it comes to solving this "problem." However, I do have the desire to think more about it find out as much as I can from others. I encourage you to do the same. If you haven't thought about the way you grade before now, just spend some time reflecting. I am not criticizing anyone. In fact, as my principal often says, "teaching is one of the hardest do well." But in order to make sure we are doing the best we can for our students, I think this topic deserves some attention and careful consideration.

Resources I have found helpful:
The Case Against the Zero

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Guest Blog Post from David Etkin

I am SUPER excited about today's post. My new Twitter buddy, David Etkin (@davidaetkin), generously agreed to share a post about Reading Partnerships and Clubs once I hit 100 followers.

This is a fantastic idea for making reading in the classroom feel more authentic, as well as making it much more motivating for students than your traditional whole-class novel set up. Thank you, David, for sharing this WONDERful idea and inspiring me to break out of the box and try new things in my own classroom. This is definitely something I will be implementing in the 2012-2013 school year!

The Case for Reading Partnerships and Clubs

Forming reading partnerships and book clubs with young students is challenging. How do I partner the students—By interest? Reading level? Friend requests? And once they are in these groups, how do I help them to set reasonable goals? How can I keep their conversations moving forward? What do I do about the student who doesn’t do his reading?

Surely, there are many questions. But I’m persevering in my book clubs plan because this I believe: Some of the most powerful reading we do is partner reading.

(These pictures are the students reading on the first day after they choose their books. After this first day, reading and preparation is done independently.)

I read for myself all the time. Oftentimes my reading is to find that next great book I can recommend to a student at just the right time. (And with the Nerdy Book Club, there are so many options.) But the books that are most memorable to me are the books I’ve had the opportunity to discuss.

My colleague, Brent Peterson, and I read Dead End in Norvelt in partnership. We kept a simple goal of about 100 pages a week (we were doing other reading, of course) and got together during a free period to discuss. These were awesome discussions.  [You can follow these links to see our conversations… if you’re really interested. Talk 1. Talk 2. Talk 3.] We came prepared with some Post-it notes and lists of things we wanted to talk about and off we went. The half hour was barely enough time. It was great how we each brought different ideas and insights to the conversation. Brent saw things that I never would have on my own. Discussing a book brought it to life and made it more interesting than it would have been had either of us read it independently.

Norvelt conversation #3

(Who else would have laughed with me about paraffin wax hands and deterring deer with bodily functions?)  I think these conversations are why, though the public response to Norvelt has been lukewarm, Brent and I liked it so much. You can get more of a summary of our conversation on our Nerdy Book Club Blog post.

Brent and I also read and discussed Wonder a lot. And then we started passing it along to others to read. My mom read it. Then my dad. Then my sister. Then her book club. Then other reading teachers at my school. Students and their parents. And we read it aloud to our students. (And finally my wife is reading it.) And it was like Wonder became part of the social fabric of my life. It was something I could talk about with anyone around me. Family dinners were filled with conversation of Auggie and Daisy and Via. Being able to then talk with the Maker of these characters and this WONDERworld was awesome.

And this---THIS---is why I want to persist in pushing my students into partnerships and clubs. As I’ve told them, book clubs are social opportunities wrapped around a book. (Hmmm… good pearl analogy there.) I want my students to experience the joy of a book coming to life. Of understanding a book better together because they talked about and cleared up confusions and saw things from different points of view. I want my students to know the richness of literature.

So I’m willing to spend an afternoon with the book partnership/club letters they’ve written to me (Name; why I would be a good partner to someone else; my approximate reading level [GRL]; five classmates who would be good partners for me and why) spread out all over the living room floor or dining room table. (“Dad, what are you doing?”)

I’m willing to deal with a slacker reader/partner who doesn’t come prepared with the reading complete or Post-it notes ready to discuss. Because I see so many other students benefiting from rich conversations and thought building that they wouldn’t have if they only read independently.

I’m looking forward to next year and getting these partnerships and clubs underway earlier in the year. We are already discussing how to scaffold them—giving students smaller texts with which to practice before diving into a novel. I can’t wait to see my students blossom in their book discussions.

We have a great year of book conversations behind us, a better one ahead—and the state of Book Clubs is Strong.

Your turn:

Have you experienced reading as part of a partnership or club? How did it add to your reading experience?

Planning bookmark for clubs:

  Evaluation form:

Thanks again to David for his great post. Maybe if we leave him lots of comments, he'll do it again for my blogiversary! *crosses fingers* Be sure to check out David's blog, Words Read & Words Written,  for more great posts like this one!

Monday, May 28, 2012

It's Monday. What Are You Reading? 5/28/12

A weekly meme hosted by Teach Mentor Texts
It has been so long since I have participated in "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?"! It's not because I haven't been reading, but because school is so crazy! Now that things are winding down, I have been able to devote some more time to my blog.

Anyway, here is what I have read since the last time I posted:

 The Picture Books
Several of these can be found on We Give Books. The others were just random grabs from the library. 

The Novels
If you enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy, you should read this trilogy. So good!

Another book that was very Hunger Games-esque. Notice a trend in my genre preference as of late?

I originally read the sequel first. Both this and The Trouble with May Amelia were great.
I listened to these on CD. Tim Curry did a marvelous job with #1 and #2. I was not as impressed by the author's performances. I am anxious to get to the book where Mr. Curry takes over again.

Reading This Week

Sequel to Divergent. I am reading this one slowly as it will be a long wait for the third and final installment. Check out the book trailer below.