48 Hour Book Challenge!

As always, I am participating in MotherReader’s 48 Hour Book Challenge.  I have a busy weekend this time, with a wedding and a day spent down south, but I’m going to squeeze in as much reading time as I can.  I plan to read in the car while driving, and hopefully spend a good deal of time reading tomorrow.  My goal is 10 hours (so sad!  Much lower than in the past!).  I am pledging $2/hr to RIF for the challenge.

#Bookaday for #SummerReading Fun

Want to share your summer reading with a community of readers?  Looking for books to add to your “to be read” pile?  Just want to talk about what you are reading?  Then check out #bookaday this summer!  Search the hashtag on Twitter and you can connect with teachers and librarians.

#Bookaday is no-pressure and lowkey, so it’s easy to pop in and out during the summer.  The hashtag was started by the wonderful, amazing Donalyn Miller aka The Book Whisperer.  Entering its 4th year, #bookaday gives readers a summer goal:  read one book per day.  This is an average, so you might read 3 picture books one day and then complete a YA novel over the next few days.  The goal is to aim for an average of one book per day.  And any book counts!  That means picture books, graphic novels, chapter books, middle grade, YA, and adult books are all fantastic!  You set your start and end date, so there’s no deadline pressure.  Some (lucky) folks are already out of school, so they’ve already started #bookaday.  I will jump in after school ends on June 18th.

I love the #bookaday community because it is full of voracious readers.  I learn about new books and share the titles that I love with others.  We have great conversations and we cheer each other on.  By the time school starts again in September, I have a lengthy list of titles to share with me students. Some of those titles are books I read, and others are books recommended by members of the #bookaday community.  It’s fabulous!

Won’t you join us this summer?  #Bookaday is a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get started this year.  I’d love to see you join in, too!

Taking a Dip in the Nonfiction Pool….#SummerReading

Back in January, my history co-teacher brought up the idea of incorporating the NYTimes into our daily routine with the freshman class.  We wrote a grant proposal for our Parent-Teacher Association and they approved it, with our subscription beginning in February.  Today, we receive 16 copies of the paper daily and it has revolutionized our teaching. Every morning we get to school and skim the paper for an article to focus on that day.  We draw up an activity and the students read and respond to the article when they get to class.  This usually leads to a discussion and we’ve had some great ones.

At the beginning of our great experiment, many students were lacking in general background knowledge.  Today, they can speak about a variety of issues and have learned to evaluate writing for bias, opinion, facts, and much more.  They follow stories over extended periods of time and can have intelligent discussions about issues that include Syria, standardized testing, Facebook’s IPO, ancient artifact ownership, and concussions in sports.  Bringing the NYTimes into our class has afforded us many opportunities to make connections between the past and the present and I can’t imagine teaching without the paper now!

One of the most striking effects of adding the NYTimes to our curriculum is the sustained silent reading that my students participate in daily.  Unlike our independent reading time, this is a part of the day when every student is reading a longform nonfiction article.  Most of my students don’t spend a lot of time with nonfiction, so this daily exposure has been vital to their growth as students.  I was concerned about them regressing over the summer, when they don’t have the Times waiting for them when they wake up.  I am thrilled to share that The Learning Network at the NYTimes is launching its Third Annual Summer Reading Contest!

How does the contest work?  Every week students can comment and share an article that they read that week.  In their comment, they will explain why that particular article interested them in approximately 350 words.  Any article will do, from the Magazine section, or sports, or business, or opinions, or the arts, etc.  The editors will choose a few comments each week as winners and those comments will be highlighted in a separate post on the blog.  That’s like being published in the NYTimes!  Pretty good, if you ask me! (Some examples from last year can be found by scrolling down on this page.)

The best part is that the rules are pretty loose for this contest.  I love the fact that students can read anything they want in the paper.  They can even choose graphics, videos, and other forms of media as their article for the week!  And while the Times has a paywall, students can access 10 free articles each month.  Plus, any articles linked from the Learning Network blog don’t count towards the paywall cap!  That should provide more than enough opportunities for students who don’t have digital subscriptions to the paper.

The contest will begin on June 15 and run weekly through the summer.  I will be sharing with my students and posting reminders on our class Facebook page throughout the summer.  I will also post links to interesting articles each week, to give the more reluctant student readers a jumping off point for the week.  I’m really looking forward to this summer’s contest because I think it will encourage my students to continue reading the paper over the summer.  Hopefully, they will continue to improve their nonfiction skills.  And honestly, I really just want them to form a habit of reading the newspaper more often!  Whether they read one article per week or the entire paper, cover to cover, they will be practicing an important lifeskill.  They will also be building their background knowledge and forming opinions on current events.

What do you think?  Students from age 13-25 are invited to participate in the Third Annual Summer Reading Contest and I think it’s going to be great!  Do you read the newspaper often?  What about your students?  Do you think this contest will motivate them to give it a try?

A link to the rules

******The NYTimes is partnering with a variety of organizations today for a #SummerReading tweet-a-thon.  Be sure to follow the hashtag on Twitter!

Be sure to check the rest of my posts this week for other summer reading ideas.

Books to Bask In This Summer

Summer time used to mean spending hours at the bookstore one July night, waiting in line for the newest Harry Potter book. I would spend the whole winter counting down to the release day, usually with a widget on my desktop.  When I had the book in my hand I would settle in to read it as fast as possible, usually starting the book on the ride home.  I’d bask in the book while sitting outside, or in the patch of sunlight on my bedroom floor. That was summer reading for many years of my life.  Once the last book was published, I began searching out other “summer reads”.  It’s nice to have a new book to look forward to during the summer months. To this day, I keep track of summer releases and pick a few that I will definitely read, in order to keep the excitement alive.  I share the list of books I plan to bask in this summer with my students, many of whom have their own lists of books to be released.

Today I am at BEA (BookExpo America), one of my favorite days of the year.  I get to meet with authors and publicists, and sometimes I even get to see fellow bloggers.  But the best part is coming home with books that I can’t wait to read.  Those books usually make it to my “must read immediately” list.  And there are always a few that make it to me “must hand out to my students so they can pass it around all summer” list.  The hardest decision is when a book is on both lists!

Many of the books I pick up today will be ARCs, or advance review copies, of titles coming out later this summer or in the fall.  These ARCs serve a dual purpose- they help me choose books for my curriculum and they help get my students excited about reading.  Students love to be able to read (and sometimes review) books before the general public and I love giving them the opportunity to do so.  But even if you can’t get ahold of these books in ARC form, you certainly can get them later this summer.  I’ve made a list of some soon-to-be-released books that I think you will want to get your hands on this summer.

To get the summer started for those of you already out of school (so jealous!), I have Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne. Out this week, Laybourne’s novel sounds like a modern-day Lord of the Flies set in a big-box store. I love disaster novels so this one is right up my alley!

Also out this week is Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, which sounds like a great addition to my senior English curriculum. I read a starred review in one of the trade review magazines and I already ordered my copy.

I’m dying to read Rebecca Stead’s Liar & Spy, which will be released on August 7th. Stead is the author of one of my favorite books, When You Reach Me) . She’s also the author of First Light, one of the first books I reviewed when I started this blog!  Her newest book sounds like a great summer read and it’s already on my e-reader, courtesy of Netgalley.

Another book I am dying to read this summer is Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown. I’ve enjoyed all of Brown’s books because she writes teens so well and so realistically. I’m looking forward to curling up with her newest novel, which deals with the pressures of OCD and the desire for perfection. Perfect Escape will be released July 10th.

On August 14th, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece will be released. I’ve had the pleasure of already reading this title, courtesy of the publisher, and you will not want to miss this one. I cried through half of the book, but upon finishing it I felt content. The writing is brilliant and the story will punch you in the gut.

Of course, you know I will also be reading a few professional development books this summer. Number one on my list is Lucy Calkins’ Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement. Lucy is one of my teaching gurus and I know her newest book will inspire me in new ways. I’ve already begun to work with the Common Core, but Calkins is a genius and her Reading and Writing Project is my favorite curriculum design. There are a bunch of us on Twitter who are planning to read this one and share our thoughts with each other over the summer. Now that’s real professional development!

And finally, when school starts up again in September, we can look forward to Maggie Stiefvater’s newest offering. I love, love, love her Printz-Award winning novel, The Scorpio Races, and I know I will also love The Raven Boys. Stiefvater’s writing is evocative and lyrical, and it wouldn’t shock to see The Raven Boys on a few award lists next fall. This is one ARC I am hoping to get my hands on before September!

Do you have specific “summer books” that you look forward to reading every year? What will you read this year?

Making Time for Summer Reading, or Why Audiobooks Are Awesome!

“But I don’t have time to read!  I have cello lessons, concert choir, soccer practice, volunteering at the hospital, and family obligations.  Plus, I go to camp for a month.”  The refrain rings across the room, from student to student, as they lament the many reasons they won’t be able to read over the summer.  The litany of activities changes from one student to the next, but all of my awesome students are super busy all of the time. I’m so proud of everything they do, but I also want them to take the time to read.  We all know why reading is important, but I want them to have some time to relax and just lose themselves in another, pressure-free world.

When my students make excuses for not reading, I tell them there’s a foolproof way to make time for reading in their day.  They are usually astounded when I tell them that I recommend audiobooks.

“But that’s not reading!” they cry.  Usually they tell me that past teachers, or their parents, once told them that listening to books doesn’t count as reading.  I list the many, many reasons that audiobooks count as real reading and we discuss the benefits of audiobooks.  For my busy students, audiobooks can provide an easy way to get som extra reading done when they are driving to a swim meet, sitting in the car, or training for cross country.

Many libraries allow patrons to borrow audiobooks and many of those books can be downloaded onto ipods or smartphones.  But for teens, SYNC offers an amazing (FREE!) deal over the summer.  Every week, beginning in June, they will offer two free book downloads.  Each week, they offer a classic novel and a current YA novel, connected by theme.  I plan to link to the downloads each week via my Facebook page, which may of my students will follow even during the summer months.  Be sure to tell your students, too!

Download links will be posted atwww.audiobooksync.com. The featured titles are listed below:

June 14-20:The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch (Scholastic Audiobooks) and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, adapt. by Frank Galati (L.A. Theatre Works)

June 21- 27:Irises by Francisco X. Stork (Listening Library) and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (Tantor Media)

June 28-July 4:The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud (Listening Library) and Tales from the Arabian Nights by Andrew Lang (Naxos Audio)

July 5-11: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (AudioGo) and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (AudioGo)

July 12-18:Guys Read: Funny Business by Jon Scieszka (Harper Audio) and The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Stories by Mark Twain (Recorded Books)

July 19-25:Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter (Oasis Audio) and Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare (AudioGo)

July 26-Aug. 1:Pinned by Alfred C. Martino (Listen & Live Audio); and a title to be announced (Brilliance Audio)

Aug. 2-8:Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (Hachette Audio) and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (Blackstone Audio)

Aug. 9-15:Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, (Harper Audio) and Dead Men Kill by L. Ron Hubbard (Galaxy Press)

Aug. 16-22:The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera (Bolinda Audio) and The Call of the Wild by Jack London(Naxos Audio)

*list courtesy of SYNC


How awesome is that list?  I plan to download a few books myself and may hold onto them until later in the school year.  Once you download the books, you can play them at any time.  A few of my former sophomores know that there are a few books on the list that they may read during junior year, so they plan to download them over the summer.  That way, they can listen to the audiobooks during the school year, either a review or supplement to the text reading.

Are you an audiobook listener?  Do you have any recommendations? Or, do your students listen to audiobooks?

Making Summer Reading Plans

In order to encourage summer reading, I make a summer reading plan and share it with my students.  I then encourage them to do the same.  My summer reading plan isn’t set in stone- I make a list of books I want to read over the summer. The list is usually very long and I start adding books during the winter, when I am overwhelmed by the number of titles I want to read.   I may read all of the books on the list or I may only read a few over the few months that I am not in school.  The idea is, it gives me a starting point for my reading so I don’t waste time staring at my all-too-overflowing shelves.

Sharing my summer reading plan also helps my students because it gives them ideas for their own lists.  I fully admit that I am maybe too connected to the world of children’s lit (What? You can’t rattle off release dates from memory?).  I know for a fact that I am more connected than many of my students.  For many of them, they may have read a book or an author a few years ago and then lost track.  At one time they knew they wanted to read the next book in the series or another book by that author, but then life got in the way.  By sharing my plan, I hope to jog their memory so that they can add the newest Rick Riordan, or Ellen Hopkins, or Lois Lowry book to their own summer reading plans.

This year I think I will try sharing my summer reading plan digitally.  I have a class Facebook page that many students in my school follow, plus a few alumni.  Every week I post #fridayreads and students share what they are reading at that moment.  I think that by sharing my summer reading plan on the Facebook page, I can conserve some of that hard-to-come-by teaching time during the last week of school while giving my students a way to access my summer reading plan all summer long.  Plus, the comment feature on the Facebook page will allow the students to share their own plans, which is fabulous.  Social reading is so important and I love when students get ideas from each other!

I’ve already started my summer reading plan for this year.  I won’t share the entire(-ly too long) list here, but I will share a few books that I am really looking forward to reading:

The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic
Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement
A Dog’s Purpose
Soldier Dogs
Imagine: How Creativity Works
The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places
The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska
The Diviners
Finnikin of the Rock
Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard
Never Fall Down

What are you planning to read this summer?  How are you encouraging your students to read over the summer?

Why Summer Reading is Important

Summer reading is a controversial topic.  Should students be forced to read over the summer?  Is it better to let kids relax during the summer?  Is it worth the summer backslide that occurs without some type of academic work during the time out of school? Or does every kid deserve the chance to chill out and be free of responsibilities?

I think summer reading is important. However, I think that summer reading needs to involve a lot of choice.  Students should have a variety of books to choose from, in many genres, and they should not be tested on those books when they get back to school.  Summer reading should not hang over a kid’s head like a punishment that will rain down on them on the first day of school.  We need to provide choices and the students need to own their reading.

To kick off a week of summer reading-focused posts, I want to share a bit about the summer reading that my incoming freshmen will complete.

At my school, the freshmen are grouped together for the entire morning, five days per week.  I work with three other teachers and we are able to divide the class up however we see fit. The schedule changes weekly and the groups change at least once each marking period.  We have a lot of flexibility and that allows us to work together across the curriculum.  The team consists of myself (English), my co-teacher (history), the biology teacher, and the software applications teacher.    When I sat down last year to craft the summer reading list, I wanted to continue that theme of integration.  I also wanted to give the students choices. The books span a variety of genres and reading levels, both fiction and nonfiction. There is no test in September, but the students will refer to their books over the course of the year and their reading serves as an introduction to the Free Form Friday project they will complete later in the year.

I wanted to capitalize on our inter-disciplinary team and I’m so thrilled with what we came up with.  First, we decided to have One Book, One Class. All of the incoming freshman will be reading Brian Christian’s The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive for two reasons.  First, Brian is an alum and we expect the kids to love that. Brian was a year behind me when I attended HTHS and his book covers so many different subjects.  It’s a perfect match to the mission of our school and a great introduction for the freshmen.  Second, the book (review coming soon!) is a perfect composite of our cross-curricular team.  It covers science, language, communication, computers, history, and so much more.  All of the freshman will have this touchstone text and the teachers will be reading it, too.

In addition, each student is asked to select one fiction and one non-fiction title from the list we provide (See the end of this post for the list).  On the list, each teacher also noted our own favorites, in case students were seeking guidance.  I am thrilled with this list- it provides a wide array of choices in a variety of genres and across many levels (keep in mind my students are all accelerated, so while it is a 9th grade list, it may read more like a 10th-12th grade list).

By providing a list like this, I hope that most students can find something they enjoy.  Many of my boys are huge nonfiction readers and a few of them noted that this list was the first time a summer reading list included nonfiction titles.  How can that be?!

What about you? What is your experience with summer reading? Do you get to put together a summer reading list for your students or does someone at the district level do that? Did you enjoy summer reading as a kid? What about your own kids? Do they enjoy summer reading?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!


HTHS Class of 2016 Summer Reading List

A Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams Collapse or  Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond jao
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card mtr As The Future Catches You: How Genomics & Other Forces Are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth by Juan Enriquez mtr
Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster smg
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green smg Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heigelman
Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope  by William Kamkwamba
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork  The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean
The Road by Cormac McCarthy Measuring America by Andro Linklater jao
Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink
Unwind by Neal Shusterman Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Boy21 by Matthew Quick smg Spark: How Creativity Worksby Julie Burstein smg
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
by Aimee Bender
Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss
Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasely
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch . . . and What It Takes to Win by Judy Dutton

Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Summer Reading Extravaganza!

Next week I will be focusing on summer reading here on the blog, with new posts every day.  Make sure to check in and chat about your summer reading plans!