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.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

My Summer Bucket List

Nine more school days. Wow. I can't believe how fast this year flew by! Although I will be sad to see my lovely fifth graders leave me, I am excited about having time to devote to my family, my friends, and myself. What better way to prepare than to create a Summer Bucket List? I saw this idea on Thinking of Teaching and decided to join in on the fun.

So, here are some things I plan on doing this summer:

I have book stacks galore!
1. Catch up on reading. My "T.B.R." pile on Goodreads is insane. I plan on making a sizable dent in my list. From picture books, chapter books, YA, and even grown up books I will be book-worming it for sure this summer.

The beginnings of a crocheted version of my dog...so cute!
2. Crochet. I really enjoyed learning how to crochet over spring break. It is a relaxing way to pass the time, and I was becoming pretty well-versed by the end of break if I do say so myself. I have mostly stuck to amigurumi (translation: crochet animals) like the one above, so I think it would be fun to branch out and try some new, more challenging patterns.

3.Run a digital book club for my students. As a reading teacher, I am so worried about my kids succumbing to the dastardly "summer slide." To help combat that, I have signed them all up for Scholastic's Summer Challenge. I am not a huge proponent of tracking how many minutes kids spend reading, BUT if it helps some of them stay on track with their reading progress I am all for it. In addition, I have created a Summer Book Club on Edmodo. It is my hope that the students will log in to talk to each other (an me!) about what they have been reading, books they recommend, etc. I'll let you know how it goes once we have been underway for a while.

4. Spend time with my friends. Oh how I miss them during the school year. I am very much looking forward to some quality girl time that doesn't feel rushed because I have to "get up early tomorrow for school."

I am a pinning addict!
5. Revamp my classroom. I know it's summer, but when else will I have this much uninterrupted time to make my classroom look amazing??? So, I am going to do a lot of prep ahead of time this year to make my owl theme really pop and come together this year. I have already started pinning...

6. Work on my book. You may remember that after New Year's I posted about my resolutions for 2012. One of those was to begin working on a novel. I have done as I said, but am only on chapter three. I plan to make a lot of headway this summer. I may even work on more than one story as I  have a plethora of ideas constantly running through my brain!

7. Learn how to use Photoshop. You know all of those cute things you see on Teachers Pay Teachers and Teacher's Notebook? I recently found out that a great deal of it can be created on Photoshop. I plan on teaching myself how to create clip art and graphics so that I can make cute things, too! Also, I am dying for a blog makeover and this may be the first step.

8. Try new recipes. Thanks to Pinterest, I am determined to become a Kitchen Maven. We'll see how it works out...

That's one tall order, I know, but I have the time to make some headway on all of these exciting things. What are some of your "bucket list" ideas for summer?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thinking Ahead

Well, it's that time of year again! Summer is just around the corner and OF COURSE I am already thinking ahead to next year! At the end of every school year, I always reflect on what worked, what didn't, and what I wish I had done over the past ten months. At present, my "Ideas for 2012-2013" list is THREE PAGES LONG! In the past, I have found this list to be so helpful. It helps me to be a better, and less stressed out, teacher. Here are five of the things I am abolishing from my current teaching practices:

1. Spelling homework. I hate checking it, my students hate doing it, and it is (in my opinion) completely inauthentic. I would much rather focus on patterns and rules without a set list to memorize, and then assess their ability to apply those skills in their real, every day writing. Bye bye, spelling words...you will NOT be missed!

2. Fluency Homework. I'm sorry, but do we really want to encourage our kids to race through a piece of reading, completely disregarding its meaning? I don't think this is helping the students become better readers, so sayonara! I will replace it with something more meaningful and interesting, like practicing how to be an interpretive and sharing a read aloud section with the class. 

3. Name tags. I know they are cute, but by December they look revolting. They are picked at, peeling off, and collecting eraser scraps underneath of them. Ew. Besides, I have two classes, so the desks aren't really the students' anyway. I will also really not miss how long it took to laminate, label, and adhere them to the desks with contact paper at the beginning of the year. 

4. Preset consequences.Currently my clip chart (which I would get rid of completely if it wasn't school-wide) has  labels indicating a 5 minute loss of recess for "Warning," and all recess lost, plus filling out a reflection sheet, for "Consequence." This is nonsense. Losing recess a few hours after committing a "classroom crime," is not effective. Students nees immediate logical consequences that align with their infraction. Instead, there will be no more consequences for being on "Warning" (after all...it IS a warning) and it will be "Teacher's Choice" when once earns a consequence. To me, this just makes more sense.

5. A while back, I posted about our current "Shoot for Three" system for BCRs. In theory, I guess it is a good idea. However, it becomes a hassle to keep up with and creates more competition than it improves BCRs. As promised, this blog is about what works and what doesn't...and I am letting you know that for me and my classroom, this idea is no longer working. 

And because I don't feel bad about getting rid of these things (and because I love the 80s!), this is my official goodbye to the stuff I won't be missing much!

There are a ton more, considering I am by no means a perfect teacher. But this is what I love about my job! I am constantly learning and striving to improve. More posts to come about what I will be adding and revamping, so stay tuned!

So, what things are you planning on canning for the 2012-2013 school year?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Bloggy Birthday, Jen and Kellee!

I am so excited to be a part of Jen and Kellee's blog birthday celebration! Teach Mentor Texts is a great blog for sharing books for both personal enjoyment and classroom use. I got to know both Jen and Kellee through Twitter (and if you don't already follow them, you should!). We have had lots of great "chats" about great books and reading/writing workshop. So, when I was invited to help them celebrate their blog's second birthday, I readily accepted the invitation!

My book choice is actually a newer book that I have found a lot of uses for this year. That book is (my new favorite!) The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. If you have been on Twitter since the book was released, you know if has been getting a lot of love from teachers and students across the country. I used it as a read aloud in my class, but also to teach various skills in both reading and writing. 

First of all, this book totally hooked my kids. They loved the idea that it would be a quick read (there is a great deal of white space on the pages since it is a novel written verse). Also, the main characters are animals, which meant that almost every child could connect to the book. Finally, the language Katherine Applegate uses to tell Ivan's story is simply beautiful. She creates pictures with her words that are so vivid and detailed. That being said, it was a great book to revisit the important strategy of visualizing. My students were allowed to doodle what they pictured in their minds as they read. One student then took it a step further and added colors to her picture of Ivan's "domain. 

We also spent a lot of time talking about figurative language like similes and metaphors. This was a great way to discuss how interpret such language (we paraphrased the author's meaning into our own words), as well as how to use it in our own writing (we referred back to Ivan as we worked on poems in our poetry unit). 

Another great use for this book is discussing static and dynamic characters as there are examples of both in the story. This lead us to also discuss types on conflict (man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. nature, etc.). Further more, we spent time identifying how the author shifted from the present to the past and the importance of using the past to help explain the story. Lots of great opportunities for digging deeper into story structure (beyond your basic characters, stetting, plot, blah blah blah...)

We also spent some time talking about author's viewpoint (or opinion). It is not difficult to figure out how Katherine Applegate feels about animals held in captivity, or how she feels about humans who mistreat animals. She uses her characters words and actions to make that clear. The students did such a great job pinpointing character words, actions, and story events that were examples of the author expressing her feelings without directly stating them to the reader. A lot of them began emulating this in their own opinion pieces about whether or not bubblegum should be allowed in school. 

What I found most fascinating was how the students were able to write about the story and recall information without even having the text directly in front of them. This was a great way for the students to practice summarizing and paraphrasing without them even knowing it! It also helped improve their listening comprehension.  There were just TONS of different mini lessons that were easily tied into this wonderful story. 

There are not words to describe how much I enjoyed Ivan, but I loved it even more after sharing it with my students and seeing them gain so much from it. We had rich discussions about human nature, society, animal rights, and character traits. I know this is a story that will stay with my students as they often refer back to it. In response journals about independent reading, I often come across sentences such as "This reminds of when ____ happened in The One and Only Ivan", or "I think ______ is a lot like Stella because..." It is fantastic to see the students hold on to a book and carry it with them long after our work with it is done. 

If you have not already shared this wonderful book with your students, I hope you decide to. I am more than happy to add some ideas for more uses in both reading and writing as I am STILL thinking of some that I would like to add in next year.