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!

A Waste of Time?

I found myself nodding vigorously as I read The Book Whisperer’s latest post this evening.  It feels like I could have written the post myself.  Reading is viewed as a “waste of time” or a free period in too many classrooms.  Very few adults realize that this attitude is what leads students to view reading as a waste of time or something that is only done to please a teacher.

In two weeks, I will be leaving my class with a substitute for four days while I go to Mexico on a fellowship.  This will be the first time I have ever left a class for more than a day.  As I am writing the lesson plans I will leave behind I realized that my workshops are very different than the rote and memorization classes that many other teachers/subs are used to seeing.  I think I will have to leave very detailed notes explaining our daily reading time.  My students know that independent reading time is not the time to talk, work on homework, or do anything else.  But of course, I am sure they will push the limits (as any 6th grader would!) when they have a substitute teacher for the week and their regular teacher is in another country!  The note will explain that the students should read every single day.  I wish I could request that the sub also reads, to continue the modeling I do on most days, but I fear that the sub will be hesitant to do this.

Why would a sub be hesitant to sit and read for 25 minutes?  It’s not that I believe the sub would not want to read- in fact, it’s quite the opposite.  I think any substitute teacher would be afraid to do so because what if another teacher or administrator walked in and saw them just reading?  That sub would look like they were ignoring the students and not doing their job.  That is awful!  Reading should never be looked down upon as just a waste of time!  And what would that tell my students?  That reading is not a real, academic venture.  That it is something used to quiet them down and pass the time.   Not in my classroom!

In our classroom, my students and I love to read.  They beg to read.  They groan when I tell them that we need to move on and they have to put their books away.  They beg to read more of our current read-aloud, promising to make up the classwork at home.  They run to the library daily, trying to get new books or sequels.  They talk about books and make recommendations to each other.  They loan books to their classmates.  They write their letter-essays enthusiastically and want them back ASAP so that they can write back to me.  I love it!  Every classroom should be as enthusiastic about reading as mine.   (Not bragging there, just stating that all classrooms should make reading a vital and integral part of their day).

When did reading become a waste of time?  In my opinion, it happened when NCLB made testing more important than learning.  But then again, looking back on my own education, we were rarely given the time to just read.  For some reason, reading isn’t viewed as learning.  Yet I teach mini-lesson after mini-lesson that focuses on the type of thinking we do while reading.  I focus my read-alouds on thinking through my own  thinking, out loud.  I know many other teachers who do the same thing.  Yet we get strange looks and whispers because instead of spending those 20 minutes listening to a teacher lecture, my students are in the reading zone.  They are each in their own space, in their own head, living the lives of their characters.  How is this not learning?!!

Hot Books!

As a teacher, I realize I have something different to add to the kidlitosphere. Like a librarian, I am surrounded by kids all day long. That’s right, real live kid readers!  I have decided to start publishing a monthly (or thereabouts) list of books my students are loving.  Hopefully, this will help others choose books for middle grade readers.Right now, here are the books that my “real live readers” are just eating up in the classroom: 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney- Boys and girls alike are reading this. They are booktalking it to each other, too! My single copy has been passed from student to student, along with the multiple copies they bought from Scholastic and the book fair. All my students are eagerly awaiting the next book.  I am asked at least once a week when the sequel will be out and usually another student (who previously asked the same question) will launch into an explanation about the title of the book and when it will be published.  Needless to say, I can’t get my hands on this soon enough!  

Uglies (Uglies Trilogy, Book 1) (Pretties (Uglies Trilogy, Book 2) and Specials (Uglies) by Scott Westerfeld- I didn’t even have to booktalk this series. Two of my students came into school as huge fans and they spread the word. My classroom library has 3 copies of each book and they are rarely on the shelves for more than a day before being checked out by the next person. We have even had the media center order a few extra copies to make sure there is always one available.  Also, other dystopian books have become very popular once I explained that Westerfeld’s books are considered dystopian by many critics.    

Cirque Du Freak #1: A Living Nightmare: Book 1 in the Saga of Darren Shan (Cirque Du Freak: The Saga of Darren Shan) by Darren Shan- I briefly booktalked this series (seriously, for about 2 minutes before lunch one day). One student chose to take the first book home that night. Before I knew it, I was besieged by requests for the rest of the series! Apparently, the book was passed around and my boys are completely obsessed. Of course, there are 12 books and I can’t afford them all right now! The boys are getting pretty impatient. :) 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick- When I booktalked this book, I knew the appeal to most students was the fact that it has a lot of pictures. However, at least 3 students have read it since and they all enjoyed the story.  They also enjoy the fact that such a ‘nice’ book is allowed to be taken home.  I think they are used to hardcover books, especially ones with gorgeous illustrations, having special rules.  Those rules usually involve keeping the books in school and not allowing them to go home.    

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis- This is our current read-aloud. My students all know that my goal is to read the Newbery before it is chosen and I told them this is one book I think has a shot at the medal. They asked to read it together and they are loving it! They beg to read it everyday and are definitely identifying with Emma-Jean and Colleen.    

These are the books I can think of off the top of my head. I’ll have to update this every so often and keep the blogosphere updated on my students’ choices.  Again, I hope that this post helps someone find more books for their children or students.

Meetings

I have been thinking lately about the many meetings we have at school. A few of these meetings always focus on language arts and the “best” way to teach. Over and over I hear that while “independent reading is not a waste of time” it is not possible for students to read for any extended period of time. Just recently, I was told that students will read for 7-10 minutes, and then just stare at the page, pretending to read. I dare not tell these administrators that my current classes can read for 50 minutes, uninterrupted, and beg for more when we stop! While they read, I float around the room checking pages, holding conversations (which check comprehension without the student even realizing it), and looking over reading logs. While I agree that there are those students who we must work with very closely in order to build their stamina, I think it does our children a disservice to assume that reading for any length of time is an impossibility for them! Teaching is about expectations. I expect my students to read during workshop, they know my expectations, and they read.

Many districts seem to think that the average American child will only read short pieces of text and only with a specific purpose in mind. For example, we should give a 1-2 page piece to our students + a graphic organizer. This graphic organizer will ensure that they do the reading we ask of them while not staring at the ceiling. I fully support the use of graphic organizers as organization tools and guidance, but why are we making our students completely reliant on them? Why can’t a middle school child read a novel and actually enjoy it? It seems that student+novel+enjoyment just does not equal out for many administrators. Instead, we shortchange many students by giving them one page to read plus a one page organizer to fill out as they read. Too many teachers have removed independent reading and choice from their classrooms. Instead of spreading a love of books and a passion for reading, they are making reading a chore.

In my classroom this year, my students are readers. Everday they recommend books to each other, to me, and to their parents. I have had 3 parents approach me since Back to School Night to say something along the lines of, “I don’t know what you are doing in that room, but my son is READING!”. The most telling sign? My two classes have the highest combined amount of Scholastic orders each month so far. Instead of the average $20-50 ordered in the other classes, my two classes order over $100 of books each month.

Somehow, we need to convince more administrators and superintendents that the workshop model is the way to go. Lectures and textbook readings are not grooming students to be readers. They are building a hatred of reading and books. It has to stop!

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