IMWAYR: Swing It, Sunny!

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October weather is beautiful! I love the autumn season, especially when it’s this nice outside — perfect for reading Swing It, Sunny! by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm out on the front porch. This is the sequel to Sunny Side Up (2015), and it’s just as fun, although Sunny Lewin may not think so.

“Summer’s over, and it’s time for Sunny Lewin to enter the strange and unfriendly hallways of…middle school.” Yes, middle school, where I am stationed each day. Middle school IS a strange place; it’s no different for our main character.

Sunny is accompanied by other characters from the first installment, which makes this book easy to read. I feel like I know these people from the past, and I do! Revisiting characters to read more about their lives makes me root for Sunny even more. “She is NOT going to let all the confusion get her down.” I like the message, and I’m happy to help Sunny stay “sunny-side up!”

 

Thinking About “The 5 Truths of Reading” by Pernille Ripp

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I’m stealing today — stealing great words, great thinking, great learning. Pernille Ripp first wrote “The 5 Truths of Reading” on her blog in 2015, and as she says, the post is “old, but still relevant.” I agree. I’m thinking about how I can be more of an advocate for authentic reading and teaching practices as I start my new position as school librarian this fall. Here are my thoughts about the 5 truths: (See Pernille’s original post here.)

  1. Give students choice in what they read. Assigned reading is not the way to get kids to read. Usually the word “assignment” is followed by a collective “Ugh./Aww, Man!/That’s stupid!” from students in the classroom. I’ve heard it; I know. The love of reading for reading’s sake is gone immediately, and that’s not what we want. Our intentions are good — we want students to read good books, to be exposed to meaningful literature, to become more intelligent human beings. But when we assign reading that we choose, we are pushing our lives, our values, our choices into the faces of our children. Instead of assigned readings, give students choice. Talk about books that they might love, build a classroom library where students can find themselves, and create a classroom based on sharing those wonderful titles and the lessons they bring.
  2. Don’t judge the books – or the students. Pernille stated, “Our glances, our purchases, our book conversations all shape the identities that our readers are creating.” I’m guilty here, for sure. Not so much in glances or conversations, as I love to hear what my students are reading (and why they chose a particular book). My purchases have been my decision, though, and mostly reflected what I would like to have in my classroom library. No more! I have followed #WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) for over a year now, and I have consciously built a better library. Instead of deciding what you want, ask your students what should be in the library, and heed the call from recommendations given to you. Once I had a student tell me, “Mrs. S! I know this isn’t your genre, but you HAVE to read this!” One of the best things I ever did. I loved Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs! Listen to your kids. They know. Give them a chance. (Image courtesy of books.google.com)
  3. Be a reader. This is a big one! I cannot imagine being a reading teacher or a librarian without being a reader first. Shouldn’t reading be a pre-requisite for becoming a reading teacher? I think so, and recently I’ve said that out loud more often. Each time I finish a book, I’m more intelligent than I was before, and that is what I want for my students, as well.
  4. Read because it’s reading time. My motto in my reading class was “Read During Reading Time.” I still find it disheartening to hear that people who observe teachers find that there’s “just reading” going on in the classroom. Excuse me, it’s READING class! We have to get rid of rewards, points, and prizes for reading. We have to find that JOY of reading is its own reward, and we have to do that at school.
  5. Label books, not readers. This is so important. Pernille mentioned that Fountas & Pinnell (speaking at the ILA annual conference) stressed that levels are for books. Pernille also said that labeling books meant placing a sticker or stamp on them to show what bin they belong in. Kylene Beers and Bob Probst have done extensive reading research, and I remembered that Kylene said, “This is a child, not an H.” I remembered that when a student asked me once after a formative assessment, “Am I a red?” (as in, “Did I fail the test?”) I have the shivers now, just thinking about it again.

These 5 truths have been on my mind. Hopefully sharing my stolen thinking (thank you, Pernille!) will deeper our conversations about reading and teaching reading in the classroom.

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: What Independent Reading Looks Like in May

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Slice of Life Small LogoMany observers still do not realize what it takes for a teacher to offer independent reading during school hours. There are so many standards, so much curriculum, so many activities and projects to do before the school year ends. Many teachers ask, “How am I supposed to do independent reading, too?” I have employed a three-step process for the reading class in May that prove my students have learned the standards and can read independently during school hours.

Step One: Just Do It! Let’s face it. Tests are over. Students and teachers alike want to get down to the true business of learning now. I expect my students to “show what they know” in May. We have learned how to choose books, find a place to read, read with stamina and purpose, and talk about books with friends. My assessment? Their grade? “Read during reading time.” Period. Also, let the students CHOOSE. It’s important. They won’t have the teacher over the summer, and they need to know how to read on their own. Plus, assigned reading is boring (to students). They know what they like now. Let them live their own reading life.

Step Two: Keep it up! Teachers must be able to keep up with the times, especially in the classroom library. Our school library closes many days before school ends, so I must be willing and able to provide good reading materials for students all the way until the last day of school. My favorite way to gather books in May is through Scholastic Book Club bonus points and clearance sales. I save my bonus points (usually) until May, and then restock the classroom with fresh finds for students to enjoy as they wind down the school year. (Note: Garage sales start in May as well. Teachers can find reading books economically at these sales, although many titles are worn out. At least you can have them in the classroom for a little while! The public libraries sometimes have “Friends of the Library” sales in May, too. Check it out!)  IMG_4317BookStack030816

Step Three: Give a grade. Yes, I give grades in reading class in May. Don’t be afraid to assess independent reading time. Students must show that they remember and use the mini lessons, strategies, and standards that we spent all year learning. Grades are based on choosing a just-right book, finding a place to read, reading and talking about their choices, and conferring with a teacher. I’ll never forget the time (a long time ago) a student was recommending a book to me, and I missed the main character’s name during the conference. I asked, and the student replied, “That dude who was…” (I didn’t say this out loud, but I thought, “Dear! Unless the name of the main character was “Dude,” I’m pretty sure you didn’t read the book!”) My students know (this year) that 1) I’ve read the books (most of them), and 2) I will ask about theme, how the setting “sets” the mood of the story, how and why they think the characters change over time, and how many stars they would give the book (or “two thumbs up”). They know I love to read and I want to share reading time with them.  It’s supposed to be fun, but it’s still school.

Hint: As a reading teacher, the teacher is also responsible for reading during reading time, and sharing good books with students. Passion is powerful! (Lucy Calkins said that.) Read a good book today. What do you say?

 

Slice of Life Tuesdays: Reading Environments

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Slice of Life Small LogoReading Environments

School is not a good place to read, or enjoy reading. To concentrate on reading, a student should block out the sounds of the neighbor sitting next to her, the drone of the lunchroom crowd, and the teacher interrupting every 15 – 20 minutes to give instructions or move members of a group to another spot. If I was a student in a classroom in 2015, I’d be in big trouble in reading class. Location, location, location, they say. Well, a classroom is not a workable environment for any type of reading, practice or pleasure.

The considerations surrounding environment inside a classroom mostly circle around the cost of creating a comfortable space. Yes, I know, you can buy remnant carpets and reuse old book boxes economically. I hunt and peck through yard sales, and ask people to give their former furniture pieces. I shop the sales. However, school is still just NOT home. Not comfortable. Not peaceful for reading.

Some say “it’s not about the furnishings and decorations.” They are right. It’s not. I have plenty of books. Thousands, even. I’m still unpacking boxes this year, and students love to discover the new titles on the shelves. But where can they sit to enjoy reading those books? How is a student supposed to stay engaged in the reading when the environment is not an engaging place?

Just wondering…those 5 Lenses of Powerful Instruction are on my mind this evening.

 

Summer Reading: Where Should I Start?

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Summer Reading: Where Should I Start?

In the last week, I have read no less than 14 (that’s where I stopped counting) book lists and recommendations for summer reading. I am overwhelmed at the sheer number of LISTS out there, and I wonder how I will ever be able to choose, start, and finish all the books on all the lists! Which list is best? Should I read a series? Should I stick with a certain genre or author? Will I be more satisfied with adult books, or should I stay with the YA bunch and prepare for the next year of teaching middle school? Maybe I could read all the picture books with my granddaughter and decide with her which ones stand out.

So many lists! So many questions! Then, it hit me. It’s summer, right? I should heed the call to read my choice of books! So simple! Then I panicked again. Where should I start?

Like a Mack Truck…smack! A friend’s blog post not only mirrored my thinking (thank you, Tara Smith), her words cemented my decision. I will start at the top of my own pile and read whatever I want, all summer long! That’s what we recommend to our students; that’s what the research says: Summer reading should be choice reading. Summer reading should be enjoyable. Just do it! So I am…reading what I find intriguing and loving every minute of it. And you should read, too. Whatever you want. Whenever you have time.

Just do it!

My students talked about these titles quite a bit. Maybe you’ll want to check these out:

Wonder (Palacio), Out of My Mind (Draper), Crossover (Alexander), The Impossible Knife of Memory (Anderson), Number the Stars (Lowry) , Divergent (series)(Roth), Percy Jackson (series) (Riordan), The Tiger Rising (DiCamillo), Big Nate (series) (Peirce), Michael Vey (series) (Evans), Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series)(Kinney), and El Deafo (Bell).

My YA favorites this year (in addition to the books above): Brown Girl Dreaming (Woodson), The One and Only Ivan (Applegate), The Fault in Our Stars (Green), When You Reach Me (Stead), Home of the Brave (Applegate), Fish in a Tree (Hunt), Counting by 7s (Sloan). There are so many others  – you don’t want to read my list…read the books!

My Starting Line Up of Summer Picks (Adult titles, not for school): Every Day I Fight (Scott), All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr), Summer Rental (Andrews), Zeitoun (Eggers), Gray Mountain (Grisham).

Picture Books we shared and loved: Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Barnett), Blackout (Rocco), Fossil (Thomson), It’s a Book (Smith), Flotsam (Wiesner), I Don’t Want to be a Frog (Petty).

Professional Development titles (that already won me over!): The Unstoppable Writing Teacher (Cruz), Reading Workshop 2.0: Supporting Readers in the Digital Age (Serafini), The Reading Strategies Book (Serravallo), and Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading (Beers/Probst) (which I used all year and have marked up well).

Summer Reading: Where will you start? Now…go find your happy place and read!

 

 

Slice of Life Tuesdays: I Couldn’t Wait

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Slice of Life Small LogoI Couldn’t Wait

I had to start my Book-a-Day summer challenge on Sunday. I couldn’t wait until my summer — my summer doesn’t start until June 11th! (And it ends early, as well. Boo hoo.) There are so many books to read, so many characters to meet, so many awesome authors who have written new works!

The Book-a-Day challenge (#bookaday) is a challenge where you read a book a day (on average) for a number of days, all set up by you — yourself — as a challenge to read more, read widely. You can read picture books, poetry, short stories, novels, nonfiction, ANYTHING! I wanted to start after reading Donalyn Miller’s (The Book Whisperer, Reading in the Wild) challenge last year.  I read for 40 days, no problem. But I didn’t share every day, which is my goal this year.  Sharing is the best part. You read, and others recommend, and you read more! It’s an excellent way to spend your time, trust me!

RSBookI started with three professional books:

Day 1) The Unstoppable Writing Teacher (M. Colleen Cruz)

Day 2) Reading Workshop 2.0: Supporting Readers in the Digital Age (Frank Serafini)

Day 3) The Reading Strategies Book (Jennifer Serravallo) I received this one today after waiting, waiting, waiting!  (This will take me longer than a day, but I’ll read a picture book to go with each day, so that counts!)

I have to get back to reading, now. LOL Why don’t you join me?

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Time’s Running Out

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Slice of Life Small LogoTime’s Running Out

It’s hard to believe, but the school year is almost over. We have a few precious days left for inspiration, creativity, and learning. How will we use our time?

Of course, we will assess. It’s testing season, and the standardized tests will take up much of our time and energy. I don’t want my focus there. Testing is not inspirational or creative. I pledge to use my time on the following literacy activities:

1) Reading Aloud. I love sharing stories, poems, and articles with others — students and colleagues. I will read aloud each day. Research shows that reading aloud inspires students, encourages thinking, and helps overall achievement.

2) Talking about Reading. When students are allowed to share, students learn more. Plus, students are tired of the teacher talk. I know. I talk too much. They are sick of me! I will offer time for peers to discuss their favorite scenes from books, question each other’s choices, and reflect on their own readings. Talking about reading is a great way to provide students with a voice in the classroom. Each voice counts.

3) Writing and Sharing. Students in my classes love free writing time. No assignment, per se — just write. The most creative, inspirational stories I’ve read are from this laid-back, yet structured time. Once testing is over and assignments are completed, it’s time for students to show what they know. It always amazes me…they know a lot! And don’t forget sharing. Sharing time provides a purpose, a captivated audience, and much-needed fun.

The last days of school are stressful. As teachers, we try to get all the teaching in before time runs out. Reading aloud, talking about reading, and writing for the purpose of sharing are worthwhile ways to spend time with the kids. Time never runs out to grow life-long learners.

 

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