Teachers and ARCs

*This is a revised and updated version of a post I published on the blog back in 2011.  

I feel like I walk a fine line as a blogger sometimes. First and foremost, I am a bibliophile.  But I am also a high school English teacher, a lover of technology, and a book reviewer.  Because I review books that I receive from publishers and at conferences, I am fortunate to receive ARCs, or advance review copies, sometimes.  This means I get to read and review some books before they are published.

ARCs and review copies I picked up at NCTE this past November. All ARCs went to my classroom library.

I teach at a fabulous high school that shares a campus with the local community college.  We do not have a school library, but the students have access to the campus library at all times.  This means they can access databases, journals, and other periodicals that most high schools can’t afford.  But it also means that they do not have a library geared towards high schoolers.  There is no YA section, no popular fiction section, no best-sellers shelf.  Thus, my classroom library is utilized by many students in my school of almost 300.

All over the country, education budgets are being slashed, teachers are having their pay cut, and school librarians are being RIFed.  Classroom libraries, which are almost always to be teacher-funded (out of teachers’ own pockets), are certainly suffering.  However, research shows that classroom libraries are vital – they encourage students to read more!  We need to do everything we can to encourage students to become lifelong readers.  But it takes a village to raise a reader.

According to research, school libraries should provide at least 13 books per student. That means I need 3900 books for my students!  Those books should be age-appropriate, showcase a variety of genres, support the curriculum, and reflect student interests. I am going to be honest here- I can not afford to purchase the dozens of books my students need every year.  I pay for all of the books in my classroom library, just like most teachers.  In my case, I am very lucky because I do receive review copies and ARCs, from publishers and at conferences like NCTE.  For other teachers, this means ordering from Scholastic, visiting warehouse sales, soliciting donations from students/parents, and looking longingly at those new titles in the bookstore but knowing it’s impossible to buy them all.

As a blogger/reviewer, I know I am extremely lucky.  I have access to review copies and ARCs, which are all placed in my classroom library.  Publishers value the “buzz” that is generated by these early copies and my students love that they get a chance to read books before they are officially published.  I start the year by explaining what ARCs are and showing the students some unfinished copies.  My sixth-graders and my high schoolers both understood that ARCs are not finished works and may differ from the final draft.  But ARCs work wonders with readers.

ARCs are magical.  Nothing hooks a reluctant reader like the promise of reading a story before the rest of the world has access to it.  That, plus the knowledge that they can share their thoughts on Goodreads is the best motivator I have!  I utilize ARCs almost daily in my classroom.  At the beginning of the school year, I explain ARCs to my students.  We analyze a few older copies (whatever hasn’t fallen apart from the year before) and note the differences between ARCs and finished copies.  This ensures that the students are aware that ARCs are not final copies and may have errors in them, lack illustrations, and so on.  The students are usually fascinated by this because they have not had access to ARCs in the past or never knew they existed.

I show the students our ARCs shelf and explain how it will be updated whenever I get new ARCs.  I tell the students that they are free to borrow ARCs at any time, but there is one requirement: they must share their ARC experience after reading it.  This can mean writing a review on Goodreads, passing the recommendation on to a friend, or ordering a finished copy of their own.  Whenever I get a new ARC, I try to booktalk it before placing it in the library.  As soon as I mention “ARC”, students wake up and pay attention.

ARCs help me decide how to develop my classroom library collection, too.  If an ARC catches fire and is passed from student to student, falling apart as it moves through the class, I know I need to order a few finished copies.  This happened with The Hunger Games when I taught 6th grade. My single ARC was in tatters before the finished copies were published, long before most people knew who Katniss, Gale, and Peeta were.  I knew I would need more than one copy on my bookshelf because the ARC was so popular.  Needless to say, I was right.  More recently, my ARC of Matthew Quick’s Boy21  became popular with many of my students and I made sure to purchase a finished copy for the classroom library. If an ARC has a small, but dedicated, fanbase, I make sure I put a single copy in the classroom. If an ARC has a rabid following, then I will try to find more than one copy. ARCs usually last a season or two in my classroom before falling apart, so it is imperative that I replace the most popular and well-loved ARCs with finished copies!

Unfortunately, many teachers don’t have access to ARCs because they don’t blog, can’t afford to attend conferences, and aren’t aware of local publisher previews.  That is why I started #ARCsFloatOn.  ARCs can not be cataloged in libraries (public or school) because they are not finished copies.  They also can not be sold.  Thus, many reviewers end up throwing ARCs away after they read them, often long before the finished copies are produced.  There are thousands of teachers across the country who are dying to give those ARCs a second chance.  They put them in classroom libraries, give them to student groups, and use them to make collection development decision.

#ARCsFloatOn encourages reviewers to recycle those ARCs and get them into the hands of kids and teens!

ARCs Float On is a grassroots effort by  me, a Reach A Reader Advisory Board member.  The program aims to get ARCs into classroom libraries by matching willing donors with needy teachers.

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Teachers interested in being contacted by donors may register here. Your information will be vetted and added to our searchable database. Reviewers with books to donate may search the database for schools. Donors are then responsible for contacting teachers with a list of the books they have available, and to arrange for shipping or dropoff of the books–it’s up to both parties how to “float” the ARCs. Donors are responsible for all arrangements and shipping costs. We just provide you with the means to connect.

I’ve shipped many middle grade and elementary ARCs to other teachers, using Priority Mail flat rate boxes.  For approximately $11 I can ship 15-20 books to another teacher.  Most of the time, the teachers are willing to pay shipping costs, which makes it even easier for the donors.

If you are interested in donating books, you may check our database at the #ARCsFloatOn website.

By donating the books that you receive for free, you are promoting awareness of great books and authors, helping teachers and librarians, and encouraging more reading. You can learn even more about this initiative through the Twitter hashtag, #ARCsFloatOn.

I can’t imagine not having the opportunity to share ARCs with my students.  Like a librarian or bookseller, I am constantly handselling books to my students.  A highly coveted ARC can turn into 10-20 book sales within my school.  But more importantly, at least to me, an ARC can turn  a dormant reader into a voracious reader.  Having the opportunity to read a story and share an opinion before the general public can attract dormant readers to my classroom library.  And reading one book can lead to reading another.  It can lead to a student finding a favorite author or a genre they enjoy.  And that means we all win.  This is why e-ARCs don’t work for me.  I need paper copies because e-ARCs expire and can not be shared with my students.  I would hate to see paper ARCs eliminated.  Instead, I want to see paper ARCs getting a second and third chance at life in classroom libraries!

*#ARCsFloatOn is endorsed by many of the major publishers!  They are happy to see ARCs getting into the hands of students. :)  ARCs can not be cataloged in a library, but classroom libraries are a-ok.  The ARCs don’t last long (a season or so) and most teachers then end up purchasing a hardcover copy.  Again, a win-win for publishers and students alike.

Other posts I have written about using ARCs in the classroom:

#ARCsFloatOn- How Bloggers Can Help

ARCs and Authors, Bloggers and Blogs! My Oh My!

Summer Reading

This summer I had to pack up my classroom library.  No, I’m not moving classrooms.  I actually did that in the middle of the year. :)  And I am not changing schools, either. (Thank goodness!).  Just normal end-of-the-year cleaning.  Because I dread putting everything into boxes, I posted a message on our school’s electronic BBS and said that any students interested in borrowing books for the summer could come sign them out over a 2-day period.  I expected a few freshman to take a book or so each but I didn’t have high hopes.

Umm, approximately 25 students came and borrowed books.  I signed out close to 100 books for the summer!  Some students took one book, others took closer to 10 books!  How awesome is that?  Freshman, sophomore, and junior students came to the shelves and browsed, signing out anything that interested them.  My students are all brilliant and heavily involved in lots of extra-curriculars.  They told me that they were looking forward to taking some time to relax and read this summer.  More than one of them came in with a list of books that they were hoping to read, books that had been on their must-read lists for most of the year.  Other students came in and asked for recommendations, both from myself and other readers.  It was awesome!

I’ve never lent books out for the summer before because my sixth graders moved onto a new school after leaving my classroom.  It’s nice to have the ability to loan books to students over the summer.  Do you loan books out of your classroom library for the summer?

Adding Books to Your Classroom Library

Any teacher worth their salt knows how important classroom libraries are.  Even if we didn’t see the evidence in our classrooms everyday, there is plenty of research proving their importance.   But how does a teacher keep their library packed, updated, and enticing?  Students need access to books.  The more students you teach, the more books you need in your library.  At times it can seem very intimidating- how do we build up a huge classroom library without going broke?

I am extremely lucky.  Thanks to my work reviewing books for the blog I have access to review copies and ARCs.  Every single review copy and ARC I receive makes its way into my classroom library for my students to read and enjoy.  If I don’t think the book is appropriate for my 6th graders I pass it on to another teacher, our school librarian, or my sister’s school.  But most teachers don’t have time to review books on top of their day-to-day work, so I am frequently asked how I keep my library well-stocked and up-to-date.

One of the best ways to stock your classroom library is by visiting the semi-annual Scholastic Warehouse Sale in your area.  Check here for the next sale in your area.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE my warehouse sale!  Picture this:  walking through a large garage-like door.  In front of you are closed silver cases, the ones you see at your school book fair.  There are signs, favorite characters posters, and a few small piles of books.  You round the corner and suddenly you are swallowed up by this huge warehouse.  Floor to ceiling there are just huge shelves of books.  It’s like a teacher and booklover’s paradise.  Bring your credit card, your purchase order, your checkbook- however you plan to pay.  And be prepared to walk out with boxes upon boxes of books.

Can’t get to a warehouse sale?  Check out online book outlets.  Right now Barnes and Noble is running a 3 for $10 promotion.  There are lots of great children’s and YA titles in the mix.  I just placed my order.  I also frequently check out the Bargain Books on Amazon.  Be sure to go through the books in the $5 and under category for some really great deals!

Better World Books is my all-time favorite book website.  They have a constant promotion of 5 used books for $15.  Many of these are library remains and I have scooped up some phenomenal deals.  The shipping is a little slow, but it is free and they let you offset the carbon footprint so they get two thumbs up from me!  And right now they are running a special promotion in honor of Children’s Book Week-  5 children’s books for $10!

Offline you can visit garage sales, library book sales, and make sure you utilize the Scholastic Book Clubs.  I use my bonus points monthly to buy new titles for our classroom library.  The kids love having a say in what we purchase and it really builds a lot of excitement.

My first Donorschoose proposal!

My first DonorsChoose proposal has been officially accepted!

Check it out here!

Reading and Writing Workshop Controversy

Man, I am all about the controversy today!

Over at Two Writing Teachers, Stacy pointed me in the direction of this article from Education Next. As a proponent of Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Workshop approach, I was slightly offended by the article’s tone. While I do agree, slightly, that TCRWP has become more scripted over the past decade, I think it is something that was bound to happen when 10,000 educators in one city become bound to the program. However, I use a lot of my TCRWP experience in my own classroom. I think because I teach 6th grade, I avoid a lot of the problems some people have with the program (ie. phonics vs. whole language, etc). I see the difference in my room. Most notably? My students are reading. And reading constantly. Voraciously. Passionately. And critically! I mix Calkins’ methods with Nancie Atwell’s in my reading and writing workshops.

After reading the aforementioned article, I googled for some more Lucy Calkins news. The first site returned was this article from National Review Online. It concerns controversy in NYC schools over TCRWP Reading Workshop.

This article angered me. My library does not consist of trash. I have classics, Newbery winners, Printz winners, and new novels on the best seller list. Name me one adult who reads classical, canon literature all the time. I can list on one hand the adults I know who read, period! I want my students to love reading. If that means sometimes they are reading the middle school equivalent of chick-lit, then so be it. Over the course of the school year, my students will read at least 30 books each, from a variety of genres. Some books are destined to be classics, some already are, and some never will be. Does that make them less of a reader?

What do you think?

Donors Choose

After waffling for a bit, I just submitted my first proposal to Donorschoose.org. For those who don’t know, “DonorsChoose is a simple way to provide students in need with resources that our public schools often lack. At this not-for-profit web site, teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn. These ideas become classroom reality when concerned individuals, whom we call Citizen Philanthropists, choose projects to fund.” Anyone can choose a project to fund, and you can fund with any amount you want. It’s really a great site and there are so many great proposals!

I originally went to the site because I need supplies for my monarch butterfly unit for the rest of the year. I used to buy everything myself, but with a mortgage payment and bills now I can’t afford to do that! As it turns out, as a new member you can only request certain items from a preselected list on DonorsChoose. Well, I spoke to my class and they asked for books. Lots and lots of books, as they said! I took a survey and got a list of 25 books (fiction and non-fiction) they are dying to read and submitted a proposal. It is currently in review and I am anxious to see what happens. My students will be THRILLED to get new books for the classroom library and I will be thrilled to not have to spend my own money!

Now, I still need to find a way to get my monarch supplies funded. It’s only $100, but I honestly can’t justify spending my own money on it when I have so many bills to pay! This being a grown-up thing really has its downfalls! Before this year, I had gotten into the habit of buying everything for my classroom with my own money, because we don’t get any type of budget. I probably spent close to $2000 each year. I’ve already spent close to $300 on this year and I just can’t do it anymore. If you are feeling generous and want to help us, feel free. ;)

Click the link to donate to our classroom! You can enter any amount you like- we’ll take $0.50!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_xclick&business=evil_twin2327%40yahoo%2ecom&item_name=Help%20Us%20Raise%20Monarchs%21&buyer_credit_promo_code=&buyer_credit_product_category=&buyer_credit_shipping_method=&buyer_credit_user_address_change=&no_shipping=1&no_note=1&tax=0&currency_code=USD&lc=US&bn=PP%2dDonationsBF&charset=UTF%2d8

We need $100 to get the following (from LiveMonarch):
500 Mixed and Milkweed seeds for your region
Online tutorial “Adopt a Caterpillar” a 30 day personal learning experience for each child
One Sock Enclosure perfect for outdoor protection of your special critters
One Small Caterpillar Castle.
One Large Caterpillar Castle.
One Jumbo Caterpillar Castle.
Watering Floral Picks to keep field collected cuttings alive.
25 Rooted Milkweed Cuttings – certificate provided or request immediate shipment below.
Ten Monarch caterpillars – certificate provided, redeem when your plants are ready.
Four Monarch Pupae – certificate provided, redeem whenever you want them.
200+ Free Milkweed Seeds native to your region.
*Northern – Asclepias Speciosia – can survive a hard frost and long winter.
*Southern – Asclepias Curassavica – Fast growing favorite for egg laying and warmer climates.
Mini Posters: “Missing” Have you seen a Monarch?
Lifecycle sheet for all aspects of the Monarch Butterfly: basic quick review of all developmental stages.
Butterfly refuge garden sign
Adopt A Butterfly Handouts

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