Different Read Alouds for Different Classes

For the first time ever, I abandoned a read aloud with some of my classes.  I’ve always persevered through the ups and downs of read alouds, knowing that the payoff would be worth it in the end.  Some books do take longer to get into than others and I think it is important for my students to understand that you can’t quit a book after 10-15 pages.

But all of that changed last month.  I started out reading Also Known As Harper to all four of my classes. My morning classes were flying through it and really got into the story after about 50 pages. My two afternoon classes were an entirely different story- after 3 weeks we were only 60 pages into the book. I don’t think it had anything to do with the storyline- The kids were just not connecting with the story for one reason or another. I still haven’t determined why- maybe the fact both classes are at the end of the day, or the makeup of the classes themselves (my afternoon classes lean very heavily towards the male end). But for the first time I set the book aside and started a completely different read aloud with those classes.

I began reading All The Broken Pieces to those afternoon classes and it was a completely different mood! All of a sudden, they were engaged and begging me to read more. I have students who are looking up more information on the Vietnam War and bringing their research to class, just because they are interested in it.  I really agonized over abandoning a read aloud but now I am so glad that I did.  It was not worth dragging them through the rest of the book while they were disengaged- that would only accomplish the exact opposite of what my read alouds aim to accomplish.

It’s funny, because my morning classes loved Also Known As Harper.  I loved Also Known As Harper.  It’s a great book and one I really wanted to share it with my classes.  But I’m glad that I practiced what I preach and allowed us to abandon a book that just wasn’t clicking with the classes I teach in the afternoon.  I discussed the abandonment with the class and we hypothesized why it might not have been working.  A few students did ask to finish the book so they borrowed my copy and are reading the remainder of the story independently.  It was definitely a learning experience, but a positive one.  So don’t be afraid to abandon a read aloud that is not working!

NCTE 2009

Today was uplifting, inspiring, and outstanding. I regret that I did not go to all four days of NCTE and I definitely plan to go back the next time the convention is in the area. If you have not gone to NCTE you need to get there- it is unreal! (I do, however, regret having to get up at 4:30am to get into Philly by 7:45am)

My panel presented at 8:30am and I figured we would have no more than ten people, due to the early hour and the fact that it was the last day of the conference. Needless to say, I was shocked because we had close to 50 people attend! I had so much fun preaching about the merits of read alouds in the upper grades and I think I convinced a few audience members to give it a try.

For those of you who could not attend, I have attached my handouts below.

Please feel free to email me or comment if you have any questions!

Attention Middle School Teachers!

I am looking for a few “words of wisdom” for a presentation I am doing this week.  If you are a middle school teacher who uses read alouds in their classroom, I’d love to hear your thoughts/comments.

1. Why do you read to your middle schoolers?

2. How do you choose your read aloud material?

Thanks so much!

2008-2009 Class Book Lists (Read-alouds)

Each year I keep track of the books my class reads together.  This year we read some great ones!  This year on my year-end survey I asked my students to tell me their favorite read-aloud.   Below is a list of the books we read and some of the students’ comments.

 

Read-alouds:

Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher- This was the first book we read together (in my homeroom). We read it aloud during the first week of school and it was one of our favorites for the year! A great way to start off the school year, with the story of a class that has no substitute when their teacher is home sick.

 

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (Whole-class Novel)- A gorgeous story and well-known as the greatest children’s book ever written.  One of my favorites each year.

 

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- This was the first book we read together as part of our unofficial mock Newbery. I first read The Underneath over the summer and I knew I had to read it to my class. It took a few days for them to get into the story, but within the first week they loved it! This is a difficult but beautiful story- my students needed scaffolding but it was worth it. Plus, Kathi is awesome and corresponded with my class over the course of the school year. They were THRILLED!

 

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson- The second book we read for our mock Newbery, this was a huge hit. My students learned about the Revolutionary War in 5th grade, but Anderson presents a whole different perspective. The novel taught my students a lot and they enjoyed it. Most of them were begging for the sequel at the end of the year and are annoyed it’s not out yet!

 

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost- The final book we read as part of our mock Newbery. I read this aloud while presenting it on the document camera, which worked great. You can read more about this 21st-century read-aloud here.    For many of my students, this was their first verse novel and many of them turned to verse novels again and again for the rest of the year.

 

The Giver by Lois Lowry (Whole class Novel)- This is my favorite dystopian novel for young adults, and one of the first I remember reading in school.  Another book that takes some scaffolding, I love teaching it every year.

 

Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick- We read this as a companion to our Valentine’s Day charity work each year.  While gathering donations for the children’s cancer ward, this novel is the perfect companion.   Sonnenblick has crafted a gorgeous story of a young boy whose family is touched by cancer. It also made us laugh out loud a lot!  

 

The Journey That Saved Curious George : The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey by Louise Borden- This was a new book for me this year and the anchor of our non-fiction unit of study. I loved presenting a new side of the familiar Curious George tales my students know and love while growing up. And our read-aloud even inspired one student to further research H.A. Rey and his wife Margret for her National History Day presentation!  (It was also a great lead-in to our Holocaust unit).

 

The Devil’s Arithmetic  by Jane Yolen- This is the anchor of our Holocaust study and this year I read it aloud instead of as a whole class novel. This year’s class enjoyed the read aloud while working with other WWII novels/non-fiction in book clubs.  Yolen’s haunting story of a girl who does not want to remember is a powerful testament of the strength and courage of those who were persecuted during the Holocaust.

 

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan- Definitely oneof my classes’ favorites! A great adventure story that infuses regular kid problems, Greek mythology, and tons of adventure! A must-read!  I’d say close to 25% of my students began reading the rest of the series before school ended for the year!

 

 

A few comments from my students:

“My favorite read-aloud this year was The Lightning Thief  because I found out that I like mythology.”

“My favorite read-aloud was Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie  because it was funny.”

“My favorite read-aloud was Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie  because I really felt for Jeffrey and Steven!”

“I loved The Devil’s Arithmetic .  It taught me a lot about the Holocaust that I didn’t know.”

Diamond Willow was my favorite because it was emotional and reminded me of my relationship with my own dog”.

“My favorite book this year was Chains because it told a great story.”

“My favorite was Chains because it leave a cliffhanger at the end.  It has lots of action.  It made me want Ms. M. to read more.”

“I really liked Flying Solo .  It was so funny.”

The Underneath was my favorite read-aloud this year.  I just loved it!”

There were many more comments- every book resonated with a specific student.  That’s why I make sure to share a variety of genres, authors, themes, and books with each class!

Nuts and Bolts of the Read Aloud in my Middle School Classroom

Reading aloud to my students daily is one of, if not the most, important aspects of my classroom.  I extoll the virtues of classroom read alouds to anyone and everyone who will listen, yet I realized I never broke down the nuts and bolts of it here on my blog!  Recently I have received a few emails seeking the answers to questions like, how do your read-alouds work? About how long does it really take to read an entire book aloud to the class? How much time do you spend per week on it? What types of assignments make their way into the gradebook?  Do you ever give traditional comprehension quizzes/tests or grammar tests? Does your school implement standards based report cards/grading?

 

How do your read-alouds work?

I read aloud to my class every.single.day.  Yes, there are days when it feels like a pain because we are pressed for time or the schedule has been changed.  But I refuse to shortchange my students when we are deep into a novel!  And if I ever feel like we truly don’t have time that day, my students make sure that we make the time (usually by begging)!  

I begin the school year with a read aloud on the first day of school.  From day one, my students see that I value reading and I value reading together as a community.  Those first days of school are always crazy- assemblies, extended class periods, getting to know you time, learning the ropes, and all that.  Well, that usually makes for lots of downtime.  Instead of doing silly bulletin board activities or useless worksheets, we read together.  It sets the stage for a great year!

When I read to my students, it is usually at the end of our period together.  I set aside about 15 minutes (sometimes more, sometimes less) to read each day.  My students stay at their desks  because we don’t have the time or space to move around- 6th graders are pretty big.  They just close their binders, put down their pens, and settle in for a relaxing few minutes.  I read and every so often stop to think aloud.  These think alouds might model a reading strategy or share a response I have to the text.  At other times they will elicit responses from the kids.  But I try not to spend too much time talking because that takes away time we could spend reading.   

I usually read between 1-3 chapters per day (depending on the book and chapter length, of course) and I try to leave my students at the end of a chapter.  If I can’t do that, I leave them hanging at a point when the time/action moves forward in a chapter.  This means I usually dedicate at least an hour to the read-aloud each week.  And honestly?  That hour is time that is usually lost otherwise because it’s “extra” or left-over time when we transition or the schedule changes or we have an extra 5 minutes here or there.  Learn to use time to your advantage!  

 

About how long does it really take to read an entire book aloud to the class?

Depends on the book. ;)  On average, I read about a book per month to my class.  Figure that most books are between 150-250 pages, and I read 10-20 pages per day.  This year I did read Chains and The Underneath to my class- each ran over 300 pages. These took slightly longer to read but were well worth it. I make smart decisions about the books I share with my class and that means trying to stay away from huge tomes. If a book is too long my students lose interest because it ends up being spread over 2 or 3 months. That’s just too long. Plus, I want to expose them to a variety of genres and authors through our read alouds and I can’t do that if we spend 3 months on one book.

 

What types of assignments make their way into the gradebook? 

I DO NOT grade the read alouds.  Read alouds are my way of modeling reading for pleasure, introducing my students to new genres and authors, and modeling my think alouds.  If I graded them, students would see them as work.  And I am trying to train lifelong readers, not academic-only readers.  However, I do grade reading.  The most important assignment I give is letter-essays.  Each student writes me a friendly letter, once every 3 weeks, telling me about the reading they are doing.  And then I write back.  If you aren’t familiar with letter-essays, you must check out Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers.

I also give alternate assessments. I’ve gathered these from a variety of sources, such as Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6. While it says grades 3-6, I think you could easily use many of the ideas up to grade eight.  I also give a monthly reading log that parents have to sign, which is worth 20 points.  If students hand it in on time, they receive a 20/20.  One day late is 15/20.  Two days is 10/20.  I do not accept it after two days.  (The reading log is something I struggled with- I don’t necessarily agree with them.  However, many parents asked for them and it appeases them.  For my kids, it’s no big deal because reading becomes an integral part of their life and daily routine within a few months.  They leave the log at home, mom or dad signs it, and they bring it back the day it is due.  A quick, easy grade and it forces them to be responsible!)

One of the best decisions I made was to grade based out of total points. Because I grade with a rubric 90% of the time, this makes it easier to get final grades. Each marking period is worth a total number of points (say 200) and I add up the points each student received. Then I divide it to get their average. For example, if a student received 165 points out of a possible 200, they would receive an 83 for the marking period.

 

Do you ever give traditional comprehension quizzes/tests or grammar tests?

Simply put, yes.  Each year I do two whole-class novels: Tuck Everlasting and The Giver. Both are required by the district. In the case of Tuck Everlasting, I use the novel as a means to teach my students how to annotate text. (Inspired by Monica Edinger ).  We read Tuck early in the year and annotating is a skill my students have very little experience with up until that point.  However, it’s a skill that will serve them well.  I treat the novel as a read-aloud but we annotate the text together and individually.  Because they are so familiar with it, my students are tested on the novel.  However, the test is short answers and an essay, not multiple-choice questions that they would just memorize.

The Giver is also a district requirement.  My students read it individually, and we discuss it together.  I do read certain chapters aloud, because the novel is difficult.  Again, the students are tested but the test consists of short answers, explaining the importance of quotes, and an essay.  There are also a few multiple choice questions.  

I know it seems like giving a traditional comprehension test/quiz goes against everything I believe in.  However, I have to prepare my students for middle school, where comprehension tests and quizzes are the norm.  And in high school.  But because my students are growing as lifelong readers, the tests and quizzes aren’t an issue for them.  I also make sure that I have enough alternate assignments in my gradebook that one test won’t hurt their grade too much if they don’t test well.  

As for grammar, I teach it within writing workshop as much as possible.  I also use Story Grammar for Elementary School: A Sentence-Composing Approach: A Student Worktext and Grammar for Middle School: A Sentence-Composing Approach–A Student Worktext a lot. I don’t give a lot of straight grammar tests but I sometimes give grammar quizzes.

 

Hopefully, this helps someone out there who wants to begin sharing read-alouds with their class.  Now is as good a time as any to start!  Questions?  Comments?  Ideas?  Leave them in the comments!

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