My 40-Book Challenge

I have received a lot of comments asking me about my 40-book challenge.  I plan to use it again this year, with a few modifications, for my freshmen and seniors.  I can’t take credit for this idea at all- that goes to the incomparable Donalyn Miller.  Donalyn, the “Book Whisperer” has a fantastic professional resource that every English teacher should own. In The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn discusses her 40-book challenge, in which she challenges each student she teaches to read at least 40 books over the course of the school year.  I took this idea and made a few adaptations to use it in my classroom this past year.

I drew up a document that had a table on it, with a variety of genres.  Looking back over my classes for the past few years, I decided how many books in each genre the students would be responsible for reading.  I want them to have choice but also wanted to guide them towards books they might not otherwise pick up.  The genre requirements are something I would probably change every year to best fit each class.  To give a few examples, I required 3 historical fiction books, 5 fantasy, 3 science-fiction, and so on.  The largest percentage were realistic fiction because it was the perennial favorite in 6th grade.  I also left 10 books open to free choice of any genre.  While the students moaned and groaned a bit, I think the genre requirements were very helpful.  They didn’t hold any students back but they also helped more reluctant readers because they provided guidance.

Now, when I hand out the requirements there is a stunned silence in each period.  Most of my students freely admit that they may have read 3-4 books the previous year, so 40 books sounds like an insurmountable amount.  However, I just tell them that I have complete faith in them and I know they can do it.  If they ask what happens if they don’t read 40 books, I just tell them that isn’t an option.  And that as long as they are always reading when we read in class and they do their reading at home, they will be fine.  I do explain it a little differently to parents, though.  I tell them that even if a student doesn’t complete 40 books, the goal is to read more than they did the year before and to increase their skills.  More importantly, it increases their enjoyment of reading because the 40-book requirement helps them find something they do like!  But I ask the parents not to tell their kids that it’s “ok” not to read 40 books.  If they think they don’t have to, many won’t!  The challenge holds them to a high standard and I like that.

Did all my students complete 40 books?  No.  Did they read a lot more than they did in the past and become more passionate readers?  Absolutely!

Jumping Off the Page with Social Reading

As a sixth grade teacher, I meet many students who immediately profess their hatred of reading to me on the first day of school.  While I do everything I can to draw a passion for reading out of them, nothing is more powerful than the recommendation of a friend.  Social reading, the act of one person recommending a book to another, has caused books to literally fly off my shelves.  It’s my most powerful secret weapon in the fight against reading hate.

If you take a look at the list of books my students last year thought shouldn’t be missed, you’ll see many books that might not be familiar at first glance. But they are familiar to my students. More than familiar. Each of those books was introduced to the class either by my booktalk, a personal recommendation to a particular student, or when a student found it in the library.  However, the power of recommendations from fellow students was what made  each book a “must read” for the rest of my classes.

So how does a book become a social read?  How do we harness this power and repeat it over and over, year after year?  Back in June, I took a few minutes to look over my classroom surveys and tried to find an example of a social read in my classroom.  One of the most popular student recommended books in my classroom for two years running is the Cirque du Freak series .

I read the first book in Darren Shan’s series a few years ago.  While I enjoyed it, it’s definitely not my kind of book.  (Too much gore and horror!)  However, it’s a great example of the horror genre and I booktalk it every year.  While I may not want to read the whole series, it’s the perfect book for dormant readers, especially boys.

Last year, I booktalked the series to the class as a whole.  One student raised his hand and requested to read my copy.  I handed it over and told him to let me know what he thought after reading it.  A few days later, that former dormant reader was almost done the book and couldn’t stop talking to me about it.  I explained that I didn’t love the book and he asked me why, getting me to  outline why I didn’t enjoy them.  We not only had a great discussion about finding the right book for the right reader, but also about why he loved the book.  Within the week, he had moved onto the second book in the series.  This was a reader who previously met me head-on whenever I tried to recommend a book, circumventing everything I tried.

Over the course of the week, while conferencing about his reading, I noticed a few of my other students leaning closer to us, listening in.  On the Friday of that week, I decided to take a few minutes at the end of a class period to have the students share what they were reading and some brief thoughts, thinking it might spark an interest in a few other students.  I had nothing to lose!  My dormant reader did his own book talk for Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare and man, was he good!  He talked it up way better than I could have, because he genuinely loved the book. Before I could even take out the other copies I had, 5 hands were waving in the air. Students who struggled to find a book, students who abandoned books constantly- all requesting to read Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare.

At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I figured one or two of the students might finish the book, with the others moving on from the book as quickly as they moved on from other books they had attempted.  As it was still early in the year, I didn’t know my readers very well. To my eyes, Darren Shan’s books didn’t seem like the right match for them.  Having nothing to lose and wanting all of my students to try books that they thought they would enjoy, I passed out all of my copies.  The students all settled down that day with their copy of the book and began reading.

I did make one change to our reading time at that point. The boys reading Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare begged to sit near each other during reading time and I let them.  It was the best decision I could have made.  I watched as that group of boys expanded over the year, with new readers entering the fold every week and the original readers staying put, reading the rest of the books in the series.  They would quietly answer each other’s questions, discuss predictions, and jokingly cover their ears if someone who was ahead of them in the series began to talk about a spoiler.  It was amazing to watch.  The best part?  All I did was provide the initial booktalk that hooked ONE dormant reader.  His enthusiasm spread to more readers, and then to more.  It was a domino effect.  He did more than I could have ever done to inspire a passion for reading.

Over the course of the year, Cirque du Freak became a “best-seller” in my classroom.  I give all the credit to the students who spent the whole year talking to each other about their books.  At the end of the year four of my students had finished the entire series, two moved on to reading The Demonata #1: Lord Loss: Book 1 in the Demonata series, and about 10 were at various points in the original series.  Why?  Because I allowed reading the books to be social.  They didn’t talk to each other during independent reading, other than to answer questions quietly, but they did talk about the books constantly.  The students carried their books around all day, competed with each other to see who made the best predictions and who read the series the fastest, and they constantly recommended the series to other students.  While that may seem to go against everything we have been taught about SSR (one of those S’s is supposed to stand for Silent!), but allowing students to share and discuss books meant even more students READ the books!

Social reading is such a powerful concept and one of the best ways to get students to enjoy books and reading.  Howcan we capture that in more classrooms?

  • Start with teachers who are enthusiastic about books!
  • Booktalk, booktalk, booktalk.  Make your students aware of their choices.
  • Allow kids to be passionate about their book choices.  Maybe they don’t choose to read the books you think are “literary” or otherwise worthy, but they are reading.  And those books will be a gateway to more books.
  • Kids are social creatures by nature.  If they are talking about books, encourage it!  Give them an opportunity to talk about their books, but without doing a book report or graded booktalk.  Attaching these social opportunities to a graded assignment makes it a pressure-filled situation for the kids and they won’t enjoy it.  They’ll be too busy worrying about their own grade to listen to what anyone else has to say.
  • Cultivate those scenarios where kids are talking about books.  Whether it’s in the hallways, at lunch, or in your classroom- keep the conversation going!  Don’t talk down to your kids or pass judgement on their reading choices.  Just let them read!
  • Make sure books are available!  If they fall in love with a series, figure out a way to get copies of the books.  Let their parents know what they are reading, have the school librarian order more copies, scour garage sales, etc.  I also have my students make book donations at the end of the year, donating books to the classroom that they no longer need.  Needless to say, I now own more than my fair share of Darren Shan’s books.  ;)  But do everything you can to make books available to your students!  My current students are currently passing around The Lightning Thief.  Everyday another student asks for a copy, so I own 4 copies.  I just placed an order with Scholastic for 5 more copies.  Anything to keep them reading!

Social reading is so very powerful.  It’s also so easy to grow in our classrooms and homes.  Kids are opinionated and they know what they like.  While they love to hear our ideas and recommendations (as long as they believe in us and know we aren’t being fake), they love to hear from their peers even more.

When my students leave my classroom and move on to the middle school they express concern that they won’t have me to rely on anymore for books.  My response?  I’m just a crutch they are used to having.  Most of them are long past the days of relying solely on my booktalks and recommendations to choose their books.  I remind them that they will always be surrounded with peers and friends and classmates.  That’s a huge pool of resources just waiting to be tapped!  As long as everyone does their part, continuing to read and share their books, my students will always have books to read.  It’s a culture- a reading culture- and we need to start cultivating it in our schools!

*A version of this was originally posted over the summer

Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers by Steven Layne

If you are a teacher, a librarian, a parent- anyone who wants to get kids reading more- then you need to get your hand on Steven Layne’s Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers.  I knew I would like the book as soon as I saw the title, but I had no idea how important it would be.  It has earned itself a place of honor on my professional book shelf.

Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers says so eloquently what I strive for everyday in my classroom-  we need to teach our students to read for the love of reading and not for results on a standardized test.  We need less test prep and more independent reading.  We need teachers who are passionate about books sharing that passion with their students.

Layne focuses on how to teach reading as an art and a love, rather then a set of skills that can be drilled and killed.  The book is packed with ways to inspire readers at any grade level, I could not put this down (which is rare for a professional book)!  While many of his suggestions were things I already do in my classroom it felt great to be validated.  But he also gave me some new, fresh ideas that I have already put into practice in my classes.  And throughout the book Layne calls on authors like Jordan Sonnenblick, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Neal Shusterman, and many others to share the teachers and experiences that shaped them as writers.  I loved these little glimpses into their lives and even gleaned some more ideas from them.

Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers is a must-have for any teacher who wants to ignite a passion for pleasure reading in their students.

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Wait a Minute…Reading is Fun?!

As 3rd period filed into my classroom one of my students yelled from across the room, “Hey Ms. M.!  Reading is fun!  I had no idea!”

I laughed and asked him what he meant.

“Like, it’s awesome.  I never knew that before.  But last night I took out my book for my 20 minutes of reading and all of a sudden an hour went by.  I finished half the book last night!  It’s a really great book!  I never knew a book could be this good!”

Needless to say, I walked around with a huge smile all day.  This is why reading workshop works.  This is why requiring students to read every night, instead of filling out worksheets, works.

Oh, and the “awesome book” in question? Gone from These Woods by Donny Bailey Seagraves.

In This Corner….”Junk Books” vs. the Classics!

I was reading some of the blogs in my Google Reader today and saw that Lois Lowry, one of my favorite authors, responded one more time to the NY Times article on reading workshop that created such a buzz this weekend.  While I respect Lowry and absolutely adore her work, I’m going to have to beg to differ with her opinion here:

“Those who feel that once we get kids to “enjoy” reading by way of Gossip Girls and its ilk, they will eventually move on, on their own, to the “classics”—-AIN’T. GONNA. HAPPEN.  They will move on to read popular novels, and there is nothing wrong with that. But not one of them will ever voluntarily pick up Joseph Conrad or Henry James or Virginia Woolf.”

Not so, Ms. Lowry!

I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

First of all, we have to differentiate between the classics and good literature. There have been plenty of books published in the last 25 years that will someday be considered classics.  If kids are reading those then I am perfectly happy and consider those books just as important as the classics!  In this instance I will include both classics and those destined to be classics.  My students who sometimes begin reading “junk” books often move on to more “important” literature.  Keep in mind that literature is important in the eyes of adults.  For my students, their current “junk” book might be more important to them at this point in their life.  Maybe they finally found themselves in a character.  Or perhaps they learn to look at life from a different perspective.  Even “junk” can teach us something.  Plus, one man’s junk is another’s treasure, as we all know.

As for anecdotal evidence, I have seen it with my own eyes.  I have plenty of students each year who begin school reading what many would call junk.  Do I stop them?  Never!  That junk will be the reading material that opens their eyes to a world of possibilities- the world of reading.  All their lives they have been told no, don’t read this.  Don’t read that.  Only what we (parents, teachers) say is important counts.  You can’t be trusted to choose good books or read decent literature.

No wonder so many adolescents and tweens hate reading!  No one allows them to find their niche.  When I tell my students they can read anything they want they are overwhelmed at first.  For far too long they have been shut down and shut out of the conversation.  So they take advantage of the “whatever you want” aspect of my independent reading time.  Yes, Twilight is a popular choice with many of my reluctant readers. So are books like Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare and fluffy graphic novels like Babymouse #1: Queen of the World!. None of these are “great literature” or someday classics. In fact, many people would refer to them as junk books.

But in a few short months, those choices have led to new books, modern classics like Speak, Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, and The Stand.  Why?  Because students have learned that reading is actually fun and enjoyable!  They know what they like- graphic novels, or realistic fiction about social issues, or horror.  It’s a natural progression as they seek out more and more books.

Does every student move on to the classics?  Of course not.  Not every student is starting at the same level.  But learning to enjoy reading means that they will read the classics someday or at the very least, the odds are better that they will!  It also means they are more likely to understand the books assigned in high school and college because they have built up their reading stamina.

Unlike the teacher in the article, I don’t have my students read the whole period, every period.  We do a few whole class novels (including Lowry’s <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0440237688?ie=UTF8&tag=thereazon-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0440237688″>The Giver</a>).   My post from yesterday details my reading workshop and the way I teach whole-class novels and read alouds.  But my students do get to read books of their choice every day and my lesson plans revolve around those books 80% of the year.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So Ms. Lowry, we will have to agree to disagree here. Writers don’t write no junk in my eyes, because as teachers we never know which book will be the key that opens the door to the world of reading.  Whether it’s Gossip Girl or Virginia Woolf, all the keys fit the lock.

Reading in Middle School: Choice, Independence, and Community

It’s been a crazy few days for reading in the news.  First, I was devastated to learn that Reading Rainbow has been cancelled and its final episode aired on Friday.  I remember watching Reading Rainbow often as a child and singing the theme song even more often.

“Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high. Take a  look, it’s in a book…”  I can still picture the opening credits in my head!

According to vice president for children’s programming at PBS, Linda Simensky, “research has shown that teaching children the mechanics of reading should be the network’s priority…”  This breaks my heart.  It’s just another example of the mentality that mechanics and how-to takes precedence over why reading (and often writing) is fun and enjoyable.  As a teacher I can promise you that enjoying reading has taken my students to new heights and in my experience is just as important as those mechanics.  If you hate reading it doesn’t matter how well you can read, you still aren’t going to pick up a book.  And if you struggle with reading it’s hard to see a reason to enjoy it. It saddens me that PBS no longer sees teaching the enjoyment of reading as important but I plan to continue teaching and modeling that enjoyment in my classroom.

After reading about Reading Rainbow I was I was thrilled to see the “reading workshop” approach to teaching getting publicity with an article in the New York Times.  Motoko Rich’s  A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like isn’t ground-breaking- reading workshop has been around for decades- but any publicity for this way of teaching is good publicity in my opinion. There are thousands of teachers out there who are unfamiliar with the workshop approach, don’t believe it can work in this age of standardized testing, or don’t feel confident enough to take the plunge. Hopefully this article will encourage a few more to try it in their own classrooms.  Presenting students with choice in reading opens new worlds.  I have the anecdotal evidence from my own classrooms as do many other teachers. You only have to read my literacy surveys at the beginning of the year and the end of the year- you’ll see the difference in my readers.  Speak to their parents.  More importantly?  Speak to my students.  Having a choice in their reading leads to enjoying reading!

I don’t agree with every single thing in the article, just like I don’t agree with every single thing Nancie Atwell or Lucy Calkins preaches.  Lorrie McNeill, the teacher in the article, doesn’t believe in any whole-class novels.  While I use them (very) sparingly, I agree with Monica Edinger (a fourth grade teacher) that they can be very valuable.  Adults read with book clubs, so why not students?  I do agree with McNeill’s opinion that too many teachers overteach whole-class novels.  That’s the problem.  But this is why I love the workshop approach- you do what works for you and your students.

My teaching was shaped by my student-teaching experience.  I was extremely fortunate in that I taught at a Teacher’s College Reading & Writing Project school in New Jersey.  I attended staff development and saw the workshop approach work over my two semesters in third grade there.  My cooperating teacher was an inspiration and I’ve never looked back.  Nancie Atwell, Lucy Calkins, Kelly Gallagher, and so many more have been inspiring me ever since.  But my reading workshop isn’t identical to anyone else’s.  I teach 100 sixth grade students in 55 minute periods.  I have to modify the system to fit my classroom and my students.  For the record, I do think reading workshop works at its best with small classes for larger quantities of time, like McNeill’s classes.  But we all work within the parameters of our district.

Here’s a broad overview of my sixth grade reading workshop:

  • Independent Reading- The cornerstone of my workshop.  All of my students are required to have a book with them at all times.  We read in class, while I model by reading or conference with individuals.  At the beginning of the year I spend a lot of time modeling reading while easing into reading conferences with my students.  Our minilessons are related to each child’s independent book because I focus on comprehension strategies which can be applied to all books instead of lessons tailored only to a specific novel (a la the numerous novel guides out there).  My students begin the year with in-class reading logs while easing into letter-essay responses.  They also keep an at-home reading log that is collected once each month as a quiz grade.  The quiz is pass/fail and everyone passes as long as the log is turned in.  The logs, and later letter-essays, allow me to keep track of each student’s progress and help guide them.  I also have individual reading conferences with each student along with numerous informal chats in the hall, during homeroom, and hopefully online this year!
  • Read Alouds: Can you have two cornerstones?  Because read alouds are equally as important as independent reading in my class  We are always reading a book together.  This is a “for fun” book, as I tell my students.  They aren’t quizzed, tested, or graded.  What they rarely realize is how much they are learning from my modeling, thinking aloud, and our class conversations.  I choose books that they class wouldn’t normally choose to read on their own and the books are always a few level above my average reader.  We usually use Newbery buzz as a guide, trying to read the Newbery winner before it is announced in January.  Of course, we also read picture books, non-fiction related to the content areas, and numerous articles.  This year’s first read aloud? When You Reach Me.  See here if you are interested in what we read last year.
  • Whole class books:  The dreaded whole-class novel.  *shudder*  We do read books together.  These are different from our read alouds because the students are responsible for these books (tests, quizzes, or projects). One of the reasons I grade the activities attached to these books is because my students will experience reading class this way from 7th grade until graduating college.  It’s my job to prepare them.  We normally  read Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting as we learn to annotate text and dig deeper. We read literary articles about the novel, including Horn Book’s amazing interview with Babbitt, “Circling Tuck: An Interview with Natalie Babbitt”. We also read Lois Lowry’s The Giver as we debate euthanasia, free choice, and so much more. Every year it is a wonderful experience. And nothing beats hearing kids moan and groan about a “boring book” before we begin reading it and then listening to their devastated reactions when Jesse and Winnie don’t end up together or debating whether or not Jonas made the right decision.
  • Book Clubs- We study the  Holocaust at each grade level (4-8) as part of our district initiative.  We read and research different aspects of the Holocaust before students break off into book clubs of their choosing. The groups read a variety of books, fiction and nonfiction, about different aspects WWII.  They take notes, do further research, and then present what they learn to the class.  Every year I learn something new and the students are able to dig even deeper into aspects of the war they might not have been familiar with before our book clubs.
  • Primary and secondary sources- Our students participate in National History Day each year and I love introducing them to primary sources!  Connecting with history through those who actually experienced it turns on so many students to research and helps them overcome the dread attached to the word “research”.

This is only a brief, very brief, summary of my classroom and my personal approach to reading workshop.  The reaction I get the most when I mention I use reading workshop is a frown followed by, “Don’t your  students just read “junk books?”  Of course.  However, they aren’t junk books to me or those students.  They are gateway books.  I watched this year as one of my most reluctant readers  read Twilight, followed by all of its sequels, every other vampire book she could get her hands on, and then Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, and eventually Wuthering Heights!  One person’s junk is another’s treasure, and that same junk opens up a whole new world to readers.  And that’s also why I am sure to include all the other aspects of my reading workshop- read alouds, book clubs, and even whole class selections.  My students are surrounded by books and words at all times.  Each book connects with each student differently.

Reading workshop works so well because it can be personalized by each teacher.  Every classroom is different.  Just check out some of these other responses around the blogosphere:

-Monica Edinger’s In the Classroom: Teaching Reading
-The Book Whisperer’s The More Things Change
-Lois Lowry’s I Just Became Passe’
-Meg Cabot’s How to Foster a Hatred of Reading
-Kate Messner’s Heading Off Book Challenges

How to Save Money in Education

Jay Mathew’s column in the Washington Post today lists seven ways that schools can save money without spending a dime.  Three of those reasons are directly related to reading and I love them.  But the best of ideas is #1 on the list:

Replace elementary school homework with free reading. Throw away the expensive take-home textbooks, the boring worksheets and the fiendish make-a-log-cabin-out-of-Tootsie-Rolls projects. One of the clearest (and most ignored) findings of educational research is that elementary students who do lots of homework don’t learn more than students who do none. Eliminating traditional homework for this age group will save paper, reduce textbook losses and sweeten home life. Students should be asked instead to read something, maybe with their parents — at least 10 minutes a night for first-graders, 20 minutes for second-graders and so on. Teachers can ask a few kids each day what they learned from their reading to discourage shirkers.

 

Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  This would be absolutely invaluable for our students.  And I can take it one step further- instead of questioning a few students each day, run reading workshop.  Conference with students, have them complete letter essays in the upper grades, and otherwise engage them with their reading.  If only this would actually happen….

Music to My Ears

“Miss M., I’m so tired today because I was up really late.  I could not put down The Luxe!  It’s sooooo good!”

And once this student told me the above, I immediately had a waiting list for my copy of the book.  When she finished the last chapter in class today, she immediately walked it over to the next girl on the list.  Nothing makes me happier than seeing my kids recommending books to each other.  

Oh, and how did my day end?  With my late dismissal girls fighting over the boys in their books.  Passionately defending their choices.  And backing them up with evidence from the text that proved what amazing “husbands” they would make.  Gotta love it!

Welcome, Kelly Gallagher!

Kelly Gallagher, author of the upcoming Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It (available to read online here), has been on a blog tour all week.  Today I am thrilled to introduce him here, at TheReadingZone!  For the past few days, Kelly has been answering questions posed by you, the readers.  I am thrilled to include his responses here!

From Ann- As a teacher, what can I do about programs like Accelerated Reader? How do I keep my job (as an untenured teacher) but still instill that passion for reading in my students?

 

The key word in the question is “untenured.”  :) The good news is that AR
allows students to read real books…and good books, too. The bad news is
that the love of reading is undermined by the dumb quizzes and the quest for
points. I would explore ways of using the books but reducing the quizzes and
point grubbing (See McQuillan’s study in Readicide). Read Alfie Kohn¹s
Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes—great book.

After you are tenured, close the door and do what you think is best for your
kids. Take a more active stance. Educate others on the long-term
de-motivation caused by  ³carrot² programs. Model, model, model. Surround
kids with great books.

 

From Clix- Oh! I’d want to know if he has a blog ;)

I don’t, but I do have a website, www.kellygallagher.org

 

From Lisa: I have been flipping through and reading over at The Tempered Radical. I guess my big question is how do we help them love reading AND do well on the test. Obviously we have to care about the test whether we actually care about it or not. : ) I have my own ideas on this subject, but would like to hear his.

If you turn students into readers, they will do fine on the tests. There is
a direct and strong correlation between time spent reading and performance
on mandated reading tests. Not surprisingly, students who do the most
reading are the students who score highest. Conversely, students who do the
least amount of reading frequently score the lowest. If we want our students
to score higher, they have to read more. Incidentally, I have not had a
single student in over 20 years of teaching who was a non-reader and who
also scored high on the verbal section of the SAT. Not one. On the other
hand, I can pretty much predict which of my students will score well on the
exam before they take it. You guessed it: the readers.

 

It seems that reward programs for reading are all the rage now- from AR (Accelerated Reader) to Scholastic’s Read 180. How does a teacher work with these mandated programs when the district is unable to purchase more than a few dozen tests? In other words, when students must complete reward programs but can only choose books from a small, preselected list (that often includes more classics than anything else!), how does a teacher continue “the good fight”?

 

The best thing about AR is that it gets kids to read good books. The worst
thing about AR is it ties all reading to a stupid reward system‹a system
that teaches students to read because they can earn points (instead of
reading because of the value of reading itself). I believe this harms young
readers. Many studies have shown that reward systems like AR actually
decrease reading motivation once the ³treatment² is finished.
If your administration forces you to use the program, try to get them to
change their minds. I think the first thing teachers can do is challenge the
school¹s decision to use the program. Ask to see justification‹studies that
indicate that there is a long-term benefit from using the program. Share the
McQuillan study (and others) cited in Readicide. Ask administrators what we
are really teaching kids about reading when we tie all their reading
activity to earning points from shallow multiple-choice assessments.
Worst case scenario: do everything possible to augment your classroom
library. In Reading Reasons I discuss a number of ways one can build a
classroom library without breaking the bank.


As soon as I hear back from Kelly, I will update with his responses.  But what do you think of Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It? I have been recommending it to everyone I know and I think this is one of those books that will change the culture of our schools. It may start small, but people are going to be talking about this one! I absolutely agree with Kelly and his assessment of reading in our schools. See my review here.
Thanks goes out to Kelly Gallagher, as well to as the teachers who submitted questions. I appreciate Mr. Gallagher including TheReadingZone on his blog tour and wish him well as he continues his tour!

Reading Workshop in the Middle Grades

I have had a lot of questions over the last few days asking about how I run my reading workshop. For some reason, there aren’t a lot of resources out there about using reading workshop in grades 6-8. However, I have read a lot of professional resources, observed in various workshop classrooms, and modified a lot of activities originally for the primary grades. Over the next few weeks I will make it a point to post about different aspects of my reading workshop as I get ready for the new year and plan out my units of study.

Today, I will take some time to recommend the professional resources that I have found to be the most important for my knowledge and planning.

Books:

1. In the Middle: New Understanding About Writing, Reading, and Learning (Workshop Series) by Nancie Atwell- Nancie Atwell is the reading workshop guru for the upper grades. IN THE MIDDLE is an amazing resource that will allow you to see how she sets up both reading and writing workshop in her 7th grade classroom. She first published this book in 1987, and she shook the world with the idea that the drill-and-kill methodology of teaching reading was not working. In 1998 the second edition was published and it is even better than the first. Now, Atwell sees the teacher as a facilitator, actively involved in the students’ reading and writing. This book will revolutionize the way you teach reading.

2.The Reading Zone: HOW TO HELP KIDS BECOME SKILLED, PASSIONATE, HABITUAL, CRITICAL READERS by Nancie Atwell- In her newest book, Atwell focuses on the power of independent reading. This practical guide will help you shape routines and procedures that will get your kids reading. In my opinion, this is the most important book for my classroom. It honestly changed the way I teach and the way I view independent reading. Even better? It worked for me. My students became readers after I implemented my version of Atwell’s methods.

3. Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels- Literature circles are another important aspect of my reading workshop and Daniels book has proven invaluable. The minilessons included touch on routines, procedures, and reading strategies that kids can use in their groups.

4. The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition (Read-Aloud Handbook) by Jim Trelease- My favorite part of the workshop is our read-aloud. Jim Trelease’s seminal work on the importance of reading aloud is a must-read for all teachers and parents.

5. Less is More: Teaching Literature With Short Texts, Grades 6-12 by Kimberly Campbell- I only read this book over the last few weeks. However, I have already adapted many of the ideas. Using short texts allows me to use my literature anthology (making my district happy) while retaining the shape and flow of my reading workshop (making ME happy). Campbell’s book suggests stories that help teach the higher order thinking skills, which is wonderful!

6. Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak- Assessment has always been the hardest part of reading workshop for me. This book saved me!! I can not recommend it enough. Franki and Karen’s ideas for frequent assessment in their own classrooms has changed how I assess my students and it has made me a better teacher while keeping my students accountable.

7. Inside the Writer’s-Reader’s Notebook pack: A Workshop Essential by Linda Rief- I have used Linda Rief’s student notebook as a model for my own. My students keep a reading binder, which is a combination of Rief’s and Beth Newingham’s (see web resources)

Websites:

Beth Newingham’s Teacher Resources:  Mrs. Newingham’s teacher resources are aimed at the primary grades, but I love them!  I have modified many of them for my own use.  Be sure to check out her Reading Notebook, genre posters, and the pictures of her bulletin boards.

ReadWriteThink: Great lessons for literacy!

These are the resources I turn to most frequently while planning my reading workshop. Hopefully, this helps some other teachers in the intermediate grades. :) Please let me know if you have any other must-have resources!

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