Literacy Roadtrip 2014: nErD Camp & Michigan Reading Association Summer Conference

Last week, I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to tour the beautiful state of Michigan—from Parma, down in the Southeast, to Mackinac Island, up off the North shore of Lake Huron—in order to share and connect with some incredibly dedicated educators.

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nErd Camp

Starting in Parma, I was invited to speak at Day One of nErd Camp 2014 on the topic of secondary writing. Lead by teachers, authors, and other education professionals, Day One included a handful of sessions on specific topics related to technology, writing, and reading. The second day was modeled similarly to other edcamps with the conference participants coming up with and leading the session topics in an spontaneous and organic fashion; however, the Nerdy Book Club takes the “unconference” format of edcamp and focuses again on all things literacy.

My session, “Demystifying Academic Writing,” took the work of some of our favorite writing gurus and broke down how to scaffold and differentiate academic writing for secondary students. We looked at high levels of support, like the two-paragraph model that Stu introduced me to a while back, and more independent levels of sophistication, like the They Say, I Say  templates from Graff and Birkenstein, that help guide students towards independent and intellectual writing.

Using one of my favorite Leonard Pitts’ Articles of the Week, we walked through the process I take with my students as they step away from casual, chatty tones and towards the language of scholars. If you’re interested in checking out the handout or the Prezi, you can follow the links here.

 

Follow Those Nerds!

What a joy it is to be a part of this energetic and engaged group of people! Even with all of the powerful connections we can make on Twitter and other online forums, I am always amazed at how face-to-face conferences can deepen these PLN relationships.  Each session brought new ideas and more book purchases. Across Day Two, I got to absorb how other high school teachers are able to adapt a workshop model to fit their classrooms. I got to soak up a crazy-long list of diverse books for diverse readers. I got to spill what it’s like to be a social studies teacher trying to “do” literacy with other non-ELA teachers.

I am so thankful to say that I am friends with the leadership team of Colby, Alaina, Suzanne, Brian, Niki, Kristin, Donalyn and so many more! Along with fellow Nerds, like Beth, Sarah, Jessica, Lindsay, Cindy, Greg, and Ann, they all make me a more reflective educator, considering the perspectives of readers and writers across grade levels, content areas, and background experiences. So, in lieu of a blogroll, I highly suggest that you follow these people via the splattering of blog links above, that is of course, if you do not already. Go on, get on it! 🙂

 

Ferry On

From Parma, I headed up through the gorgeous wooded landscape of Northern Michigan to ferry across the blue waters of Lake Huron before reaching picturesque Mackinac Island. The island, for those of you who haven’t yet visited, is a storybook setting, dotted with tasty fudge shops and art galleries and where the only transportation is from horse-drawn carriages and tandem bicycles. Serious, what better place is there to attend a literacy conference?

Gateway Books MRA 2014MRA Summer Lit. Conference

More intimate that the annual Michigan Reading Association conference in Grand Rapids, the MRA summer literacy conference gives participants a chance to slow down and connect with other educators instead of rushing across the city center to find a seat before the next keynote address.

As an adjunct faculty at Grand Valley State University, I was asked by the conference organizers, GVSU professors Liz Storey, Pam Page, and Nancy Patterson, to share some books and strategies that get adolescents enthused about reading.

My session, “Creating Hype with ‘Gateway’ Books & Strategies,” moved through methods of accountability in a choice reading workshop to many of the strategies I discuss in my “Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading” blog series. The session also provided teachers with a list of the books that even my most defiant readers latch on to along with ideas about how to develop their own abundant, classroom libraries.

If you’re interested in the MRA Summer 2014 Handout or the Prezi, here are the links.

Page1 MRA Handout 2014

More Personal Connections

Like nErd Camp only a few days earlier, I was so energized by the personal connections to be made at these Michigan conferences. While I’ve been following Troy Hicks, author of  The Digital Writing Workshop and Because Digital Writing Matters, on Twitter way back to some of my earliest Tweets, this was my first opportunity to see him present. Interestingly, he was working to get more teachers engaged with online professional learning networks, in an effort to answer the question “How can social networking tools such as Twitter help you become a better teacher?”

As if he created a “guided instruction” model himself, we had the opportunity to further our online connection face-to-face after he graciously attended and live-tweeted from my session later that morning  (Thanks again, Troy!). 

 

Online and On the Road

What last week’s whirlwind literacy roadtrip reinforced for me is the importance of developing my PLN beyond the computer screen. In those isolating winter months, where my students seem to be the only faces I see, Twitter breaks down the barriers and allows me to connect with teachers across the globe and share my successes and frustrations. But when it comes to the warm, glorious months of summer vacation, I’m not one to sit back and forget about my classroom and the demands for next August. I realize that actually meeting up with my online community in the “real world” gives me energy and accountability for the work ahead of me. So, even if I’m driving solo up I-75 for fours hours with nothing more than audio book to keep me company, I’ll gladly take that as a convenient excuse to hit the road for some solid professional development.

Auf Wiedersehen

With that being said, starting this Friday, I’ll be hitting the road again! This time, I’m totally geeked to get my international PD passport stamped, as I was invited to join other social studies teachers as we study modern Germany for the next two weeks with the Goethe-Institut’s Transatlantic Outreach Program. We’ll be traveling throughout Munich, Geisa, Leipzig, and Berlin, learning about everything from the education and medical systems to historical and contemporary influences on society. I’m excited to share what I learn—both as I go and when I return—but in the meantime I haven’t much to say other than “Auf Wiedersehen!”

 

 

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Whole-Class Novels vs. Choice-Only Reading: Part Three & Infographic

Responses to the “Whole-Class vs. Choice-Only Reading” survey are still rolling in. Thanks for all your help! If you haven’t responded or shared the survey yet, please do so. Even if you feel like your literacy approach is restricted based on the pressure of your department, district, or state standards, we’d love to have your voice included in the survey.

Interestingly—but rather unsurprisingly—when it comes to this “debate,” most of you B10LovesBooks readers find value in both sharing whole-class novels and promoting choice-reading. Theses voices calling for some balance—whatever our specific ratio might be for our classes—need to be present in the larger literacy community. 

Infographic

I want to share some of the research on using both types of texts, but for now, it comes down to these big ideas:

Whole-ClassvsChoice-OnlyReadingInfographic.

1. Choice Reading encourages students to develop personal reader identities.

If a student can learn what types of texts he loves to read independently, the likelihood that he will develop long-term independent reading habits is so much greater than if he wasn’t provided any choice. Who we are as readers defines us beyond our years in school, so we need to help students understand this aspect of their individual development. From genre and topics to habits and unique choices, students need to figure out what they love and how they read best. This self-discovery not only helps them truly identify themselves, but it also invites an awareness to areas where can grow and might need support. 

2. Choice Reading encourages students to improve their stamina and fluency.

As with any passion that we’re developing, we need time to practice before we can be expected to do it with any ease or endurance. Malcolm Gladwell says that we need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert; therefore, to help our students’ stamina and fluency grow in the long-term, we need to get them reading as much as possible. My students and I always talk about developing these literacy skills within an analogy of marathon training. I can’t just expect to just show up ready to run the 26.2 with all the other racers without putting in miles and miles of training on my own, nor can I push myself as a runner to do hill sprints every day and think that rigor alone will prepare me for the big race or make want to even continue running when it’s all over.  In terms of this analogy, I don’t even need to get into the danger of skipping hills altogether for the sake of only doing “fun runs,” because, by now, even if you don’t follow #runteacherrun, you get the idea. 

3. Choice Reading encourages students to practice independent habits.

As adult readers, we know what it’s like be in the flow: to look up after we’ve read that last page, with tears still in our eyes, and notice that time has totally flown past us. As adult readers, we’ve developed habits independent of others in order to maintain (or at least attempt to control) our love of reading. Young readers are still learning how to manage their time, make plans for reading, engage in conversations with others, and find books on their own. Choice reading helps students develop these habits in the safe space of our classroom yet without the full on, high support of a shared text. 

4. Whole-Class books support students as they build a shared intellectual experience.

 When a learning community shares a text, they come together to share not just the plot and theme but a common, social experience.  With their unique skills and individual backgrounds, students can build a rich conversation and deep collective thinking that will move the community beyond the state of just a singular understanding to “Ah ha! I never thought about it that way!” Together, students and teachers can model their thinking and strategy use for one another all while navigating complexity within their larger, collective expertise. 

5. Whole-Class books support students meet the expectations of cultural literacy.

Outside of school, students will encounter all kinds of allusions to literature and references to informational texts. Already, in this post, I mentioned ideas from Gladwell’s Outliers. Now, if you’ve read this book yourself, you understand my reference on deeper level than those who haven’t yet it (Go and read! Seriously, see how geeked my kids were about it.) When we are in “the know” of cultural literacy, we can build deeper and wiser connections to each other and our world. Now, whether we share with our students texts that are “classics,” popular best-sellers, or otherwise, our students will have a richer, more fulfilling life if they are able to engage in conversations with others about the universal truths found in our society’s most valued books. Teachers can’t fool themselves and say that students will choose to read or understand these respected texts on their own. We need to share many of these important pieces with them in preparation for the rigors of college, career, and life beyond. 

6. Whole-Class books support students practice sustained engagement.

Within the Reader’s Bill of Rights, among other things, we have the freedom to abandon choice books. This is a liberty to celebrate certainly, but we all worry about that one student who doesn’t stick with a book long enough to maintain any real commitment. She floats from Sarah Dessen to Elizabeth Scott and Susane Colasanti and so on without reading more than 50 pages. She does this, because she doesn’t  have any the individual skills or teacher support that compels her to see it through to the end. In the same way, when teachers only share passages or excerpts of larger texts with their students, they remove opportunities to practice extended comprehension skills and examine fully developed literary craftsmanship. When we share whole-class texts with our students, together, we can focus on the content and examine the development of characters and craft over time.

7. Seeking balance supports students acquire character and non-cognitive skills.

If you’ve read any of my other posts in the last year, you know that I believe we need to help students develop their character and mindset in order to “promote long-term flourishing.” From the grit that it takes for my students to tackle Outliers in the fall to the self-control they need everyday (Lord, help them!) to cast aside their cell phones and delve into their choice books, we can use both choice reading and whole-class novels to present practice opportunities—or imaginary rehearsals—for students that go beyond literacy.

8. Seeking balance supports students broaden and deepen text exposure.

When we challenge our students with open-ended opportunities of choice reading, they can dig deeply into genres, authors, and topics of passion. Take Tristan for example: his “required genres” were all neatly colored in across the bottom of his Reading Invitation chart, but his haphazardly filled in Sci-Fi column towered up and over the backside of the paper, like a doomed Tetris game facing the end. At the same time though, I could help Tristan broaden what he thought was his only territory for reading by supporting him with whole-class texts. When we join our experiences around one shared piece, students are exposed again to genres, authors, and topics that they may not have consider alone but are willing to dive in with a strong community of readers.  

9. Seeking balance supports students learn with and from stronger readers.

In the world of disciplinary literacy,  all teachers must recognize that they are the best readers in the room, precisely because of our various subject backgrounds. As an ELA teacher, I cannot teach my sophomores to read a Bio lab report as well as their science teacher can. In the same way, I cannot expect to be the only “reading teacher” in my classroom. There becomes many expert readers in a class that has balanced approach of choice reading and whole-class novels. Yes, I can support my students understand craft and historical relevancy like no one else in the room,but I can’t do what many of my students can for one another: only Erich can speak widely with Austin about which WWII book more accurately describes the B-52 bombers, and Jaspar and Chaz are they only ones who can share how Columbine shifted their perspectives on mental health, and Gabby and Jakob could lead hour long lectures about the mythology allusions across Rick Riordan’s collection work. It when we come together and move apart on our own that our students can really flourish.

As I said, I want to break down each of these points further and connect you with some of the great research that supports these points, but I’m going to take a break from this series in order to share some work from my literacy roadtrip this week. So, if you’re new to B10LovesBooks and have found your way here thanks to nErD Camp or the Michigan Reading Association summer conference, welcome!

Whole-Class Novels vs. Choice-Only Reading: Part Two

WholeClassChoiceOnlySurvey.jpgOops! I’ve got to start by apologizing. I initiated this series and then took an end-of-the-school-year blogging hiatus.  You all know how quickly April turns into June in the classroom, so I appreciate your understanding of the whirlwind that is third trimester.

Like I said back in my last post, I want this community to expand the conversation about both whole-class novels and choice reading. We’ve got to ask stakeholders to “chill out” and just seek some balance. They’ve created this false dichotomy that has pushed the pendulum back and forth for too long.

The Trend

Unfortunately, I think it’s—dare I say—“trendy” to only  talk about choice reading right now. Whether this pendulum-swinging trend is caused by something extreme, like some reactionary protests to the CCSS, or it’s a heck of a lot less melodramatic, like maybe it just feels good (and easy) to only talk about choice, we have to step back and get real. Most teachers and students value some whole-class novels when they’re done right, and they value some autonomy when it’s supported appropriately.

Please don’t take this argument as me bashing those voices that are calling for more choice reading. Not only am I a fan and a disciple of those voices, but I am one of them!

The thing is, somehow the concept of “Whole-Class Novels vs. Choice-Only Reading” has turned into yet another needless battle in education. These omnipresent false dichotomies weigh on us as educators. They weaken our collaboration within our departments and schools by turning us into philosophical competitors. (Hhhmm… Sounds a lot like our current political landscape! And seriously, who needs any more partisanship right now?)

Let’s all just take a deep breath and admit that complex issues beg for balance.

Big News?

You may have heard recently that Kelly Gallagher, one of my favorite literacy gurus, made big news at the International Reading Association’s 2014 conference when he announced his shift from a 50/50 approach to a 25/75 approach with less whole-class shared texts and more independent choice reading.

I would have LOVED to have been in New Orleans this year to hear him speak more about this shift, but—while I anxiously wait for his next book whenever that happens to be released—I have to say that I don’t think we need a magic number declaring the right balance for every classroom and every student. I doubt that Gallagher would falsely hold out some “promise of a simple, ‘magic bullet’ solution to the literacy failure of millions of children” [1], but it certainly feels that way.

Especially if, like me, most teachers and administrators only got to follow along with the #IRA14 hashtag and were left to interpret  Gallagher’s big 25/75 announcement rather than hear how he made this decision for his specific students. Unfortunately, like so much of the other research and anecdotal evidence out there, there are already ELA decision-makers waving this magic number over all teachers and all kids.

Survey Says?

Now that the school year is over (for most of you), I want to step back and hear what’s happening in YOUR classrooms and schools. Take a minute to fill out the survey below. Share it with your teacher friends and colleagues, so we can get a broad perspective of what balance looks like across our schools.

Thanks for your participation as we continue this conversation!

 

Whole-Class Novels vs. Choice-Only Reading: Part One

Teachers know that most adolescents lack motivation to read, both academically and recreationally, yet we can see how crucial it is for students to develop reading interest and stamina in order to become competent readers and flourishing adults.

As a kid, like most of you, whole-class novels built up the entirety of my ELA curriculum; however, there was (and still is) a huge push across the last decade or so for more independent choice reading. Yet as with most things in education, with that push, it’s obvious that there has been an even more recent reactionary, theoretical pendulum swing back towards more rigorous, shared texts, inspired by the CCSS or otherwise.

Unfortunately, when districts try to operate from these competing and drastically swinging philosophies, this further inhibits adolescents from becoming life-long readers.

It’s frustrating—I’m saying this in the most mild-mannered sense, because trust me when I say that some days I’m beyond frustrated—because there is some much literature out there that presents competing and often misunderstood theoretical perspectives.

If you’re reading this blog, than you’re probably just like me, a self-proclaimed, literacy professional literature junkie. You love studying the craft and working to foster adolescent literacy.  You’ve read everything from Rosenblatt, Krashen, Allington, Beers & Probst, Lesesne, Schmoker, Fisher & Frey, Gallagher, Allen, Burke, Harvey & Goudvis, Keene, Marzano, Kittle, Newkirk, Routman, Smith, Tovani, Miller, and on and on and on. You’ve read it all.

The thing is these texts should work to inform our knowledge of adolescent literacy and thus impact our classrooms. Instead stakeholders (other teachers, coaches, administrators, parents, publishers, politicians, etc.) take these sometimes competing philosophies and—rather than take what these researchers have to say and find a balanced approach—use them to make drastic, one-sided decisions that have long-term impact on students.

Sadly, this dispute of philosophy begins to ignore the canon of research and slip slides its way into the classroom, appearing as very heated English department debates, Twitter battles, and blog rants (maybe a bit feisty like this one!) that call for either more rigor that whole-class novels provide or bemoan the disparity of voluminous reading that only choice novels can offer.  Teachers question whether novels should be shared as a whole-class texts or if students should freely chose novels according to their own interests and plans for growth, when instead these stakeholders should be discussing ways to find balance between them.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I want to expand the conversation about whole-class novels and choice-only reading. I’m going to do my best in this blog series to share and translate the vast body of research on both “sides” of this debate.

In a dispute that has very loud voices on either end,  it may be unpopular to ask stakeholders to “chill out” and just seek some balance, but I encourage you to share the research you’ve read and experiences you’ve collected in your own classroom.

There’s no need for the literacy pendulum to keep swinging when there is still so much work for us to do.

I look forward to engaging with you in this important goal. Either respond here in the comments section or tag me on Twitter (@B10LovesBooks) using the hashtag #seekbalance. Thank you.

Tip for Sparking Conversation on Reading: Table Topic Cards

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to spark conversation in your classroom around books, I love using Table Topics Cubes: Book Club Edition.  These people seriously should start paying me for all the times I’ve recommended them or given them as teacher gifts.

Whether it’s choice reading or a shared class novels, these cards work wonders for igniting informal book chats.  You can make either a slight investment of either your time—in creating question cards on your own—or with your school funds—however insufficient they might be to purchase the cards yourself.

 

Sometimes I have my students pick up a couple cards as they’re transitioning out of silent reading.  From there, we slide in to an informal book chat  with our small groups or writing prompt discussing our individual choice reading books.

 

If we’re sharing a whole class novel at that time, I have the students pick up a couple cards to use as “back up” during our whole-class/small-group discussions.  I always ask that the students come prepared with questions from the reading; however, we keep these back-ups as an arsenal in case someone else already asked our question and we need to keep the convo moving.

Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Celebrate!

Some high school ELA teachers argue that there just isn’t time for choice reading.  They believe that students aren’t motivated to read outside of school.  Well, to that, I can only pass along my students’ pride and excitement:

How do you support your students as readers?  And what do you do celebrate your students’ reading successes?

Tips for Holding Students Accountable to Choice Reading: Reading Ladders

Reading Ladder Organization

Reading Ladder Organization

What is a Reading Ladder, and where does this idea originate? A Reading Ladder is simply a piece of explanatory writing where students rank the books they’ve read according to complexity, reflect on their reading habits, and make plans for future growth.  When teachers question how to hold students accountable to choice reading, this piece of writing is probably my favorite response.  For one, it is nearly impossible to fake, because it requires a ton of thinking that is unique to each student; furthermore, students practice such incredible critical thinking and literacy skills that it’s totally worth spending valuable class time grappling with it. 

Reading Ladder Student Example

Reading Ladder Student Example from Penny Kittle

I originally heard about this idea while attending a workshop with Penny Kittle at Hudsonville Public Schools back in February of 2012.  (Thanks, Steve and Karla!) She mentioned how she was inspired to push kids thinking forward by Teri Lesesne‘s Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We’d like Them to Be (2010).  At that time, I’ll admit hadn’t read Lesesne’s book, and we all know Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers (2013) wasn’t even published, so I had to do what teachers do and improvise.  Because Kittle really only mentioned it briefly in the workshop, I didn’t even really know what a Reader Ladder actually was, yet I knew it was good stuff if she mentioned it.  Thanks to this student example [see right] I found online, my students and I figured it out together.  (Now, for the life of me, I cannot figure out where this example came from! I really apologize that I can’t give credit to the awesome educator that shared it online.  Thank you whoever you are!) <<LATER REVISION: That awesome educator was, in fact, Kittle herself! Thanks again, Penny!>> With this mentor text, my students and I worked backwards, noticing what the writer did in each paragraph and then constructing a rubric that we imagined the student’s teacher probably required of her.  For a year, this worked just fine, and now, since Book Love has been released, Kittle has provided a really stellar description of how she uses Reading Ladders in her class (see pages 124-132).  Today, I basically do what she says, but the reason I’m regurgitating it here is to share my interpretations and variations with you and to show that it works with “real-life” students.

How does a Reading Ladder benefit student thinking?   When students construct Reading Ladders, they have to consider the questions “What makes reading difficult for you right now?” and “How will you work to improve?”  We all know the benefits of this kind of internal reflecting and planning conversations: they push students to evaluate their current habits and abilities while making goals for the future.

"The goal of reading ladders," writes Teri Lesesne, "is to slowly move students from where they are to where we would like them to be."

“The goal of reading ladders,” writes Teri Lesesne, “is to slowly move students from where they are to where we would like them to be.”

The students in my sophomore class have thankfully come from a highly supportive, book-lovin’ environment in ninth grade, but as they transition to tenth grade, we always talk about how important it is to “step up our game.”  From the first day of Humanities 10, they take on a new reading challenge.

Within in this challenge, we talk about how important is to consider all the evidence that proves they’ve grown as a reader.  They always say, “I just know I’ve gotten better.” Yeah, okay, that’s great!  I know that feels really good, especially for those developing reading.  Of course, I want to celebrate this good feeling, but this feeling isn’t always going to push them to the next level.  Sometimes, they don’t even know what the next level is.

Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, talks about how powerful it is for students to see intelligence as something more than a fixed trait.  Sadly, far too many kids think either you’re born a good reader or you’re not: “Reading was hard for me when I was little, so I’m never going to be a good reader.”  If they can embrace intelligence as a quality that can be developed and expanded (through grit and other character strengths), they are likely to show even more growth. Isn’t this just crazy-awesome?

One way my students begin to shift their thinking about intelligence is by analyzing their own reading data.  Of course, they take the ACT Reading prototype, and yeah, they also do the Scholastic Reading Inventory, and sure, they chart the books they’ve read, but individually these things don’t paint the whole picture of how they’ve grown as readers.  When they really look at all of these pieces of data combined with their own reflections, they are able to appreciate their progress, recognize effective strategies, and set new goals.

What process do my students take to construct their own Reading Ladders?  To start off, my students #1 compile a list of all of the books they completed and abandoned so far this school year.  Most of them keep track on their genre requirement chart or on Goodreads, but some of them forget to keep up with their record.  Often, they’re revisiting the shelves to look for titles they missed while I’m printing off their “Student Checkout Detail” under the reports section from Booksource’s Classroom Organizer, hoping that they actually remembered to sign out all the books that they read this year. <<Check out these posts where I discuss how I get kids to do more choice reading and how I organize my classroom library using this awesome resource.>>

Look here to find the page number on a Goodreads book profile.

As they list the titles, I ask that they #2 determine the number of pages that they read in each book.  They do this by either physically finding all of the books in our library that they read or by checking the page numbers on Goodreads website.

After they’ve done a bit of digging around,  I ask them to #3 calculate the average number of pages read per week.  Thanks to Kittle, all of my students can tell you that colleges expect students to read between 200-600 pages per week; therefore, we must develop our stamina as in order to compete with other students.  College is competitive, and if we want to succeed, we’ve got to practice daily.  So everyday, we work on reading for an extended time frame and with greater fluency.  I know that in Book Love, Kittle talks about recording students’ reading rates on a regular basis.  I never seem to have time for this, so instead, we talk about it regularly and try to track it at least once a trimester. Students calculate their reading rate by first adding up the total number of pages they read and dividing it by the number of weeks in that trimester.

Reading Rate Reflection

Reading Rate Reflection

Next, they #4 write their first reflection, comparing this reading rate with last trimester.  Before they get started, I model my own reading rate reflection.  Sharing my # of pages/week with them creates a common ground during reading conferences.  I discuss the obstacles that get in the way of my reading and how I try to get around them.

This reading rate calculation primarily helps students pay attention to the reading they’ve done outside of class, along with identifying areas of needed improvement, and celebrating gains.  I also ask students to discuss if/how they are challenging themselves, in preparation for the stamina and grit they’ll need in college.  Most are very honest if they are only reading in class,  a little here and there at home, or devoted to “stealing minutes to read” wherever they go. Whatever their habits are, sharing this reflection highlights that the choices they make have a significant difference in their later success.

These are the characteristics that one of my recent classes came up with to determine the complexity of a book.

As a class, we next #5 discuss what makes a book difficult. Over the years, I’ve done this a few different ways, but now I’m taking Kittle’s most recent suggestion by dropping a pile of books in front of a group. The title are mixed based on genre, level, structure, fiction/nonfiction, etc.  Students work together to re-stack the pile in order of text complexity.  As they’re debating over the characteristics that makes one book more difficult than the next, I walk around and write down some of their spoken statements.  We share our new book stacks with the other groups, arguing why they’re in the order that they are.  Because we have created an atmosphere that supports debate, other groups, naturally, counter-argue, providing alternative evidence. Together, we then discuss their spoken statements and all the qualities that come in to play when determining the complexity of a book. 

From there, students return to their earlier record of books and spend time #6 organizing the titles on the list from the least challenging to the most difficult and write a corresponding argument.  If this is the second or third trimester, students blend new reads in with their older reads, often annotating the new books with asterisks for the sake of clarity.  As with a lot of arguments, there may not be a “correct answer,” but as long as they clearly explain and support their thinking with quality evidence, I’m satisfied that they adequately reflected.

Following the “Why this Order?” paragraph, students #7 write mini-reviews of their favorite books. We spend time analyzing mentor texts to see what other book reviewers do. This year, my students really enjoyed analyzing the amazing YA Lit book bloggin’ work of Brian Wyzlic, of Wyz Reads; Sarah Anderson, of YALoveBlog; Jenn Fountain, of Fountain Reflections; Jillian Heise, of Heise Reads; Aaron Bergh, of Real Men Read YA, and Beth Shaum, of Foodie Bibliophile and Use Your Outside Voice.

As mentioned, the need for students to make plans for improvement is critical to their learning; therefore, each goal should be unique and individual to the student. Often these are derived from our conversations during reading conferences or students’ own awareness of their particular challenges. When #8 writing about their goals, they should be specific: “I will read 15 books by June. I will read at least one non-fiction book. I will read one Jane Austen novel. I will develop an at-home reading habit. I will….” This specificity will make it easier for them to measure if they’ve accomplished what they intended to do when we reflect next time. I also ask them to include a list of To-Read books, which contains at least a few titles that they want to read of increasing difficulty.  This is another great opportunity to do a teacher model. Throughout the year, my students start to learn about my reading challenges and goals, and this helps them see that we all have room to grow as readers. 

The last step that my students take is a new one for me, as of this winter. Kittle shares in Book Love that she asks students to #9 reflect on their reading in a short essay. Check out the assignment description and list of prompts she uses with her students.

I liked all of these prompts and will probably use them next trimester, but this time I wanted to use this moment as an opportunity to do some of that “Hey! Check it out! All these skills we’re learning actually cross over into other facets of writing.” So, we blended the reflection in our work with close reading and argumentative writing.  I gave them an Article of the Week from The New York Times Room for Debate series (I love this by the way. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s killer for studying multiple arguments of the same topic) where the authors argued why young adult fiction become such a phenomenon — even with older adults.  Students close read it, like any other week, following the AoW direction of Kelly Gallagher. Then, like all of our argumentative writing this year, students practiced using Graff & Birkenstein’s “They Say, I Say” model.  They argued their opinions, including both text-based evidence from the authors (“They Say”) as well as evidence from their own engagement with reading this year (“I Say”).  And because this Article of the Week was unique to blend it with the Reading Ladder, I did ask that include more “I Say” evidence than they normally would do in a typical AoW, mostly because I wanted them to do lots of reflecting on their own lives in order to really spur that growth.

In the end, I am always impressed with the thinking my students do as a part of their Reading Ladders.

What does a finished Reading Ladder look like?  The example below comes from one my actual students.  According to power data, this kid is about six grades below tenth grade proficiency.  I’m including it here because, although he struggles, his Reading Ladder shows really deep thinking and awesome grit.

Another Student Reading Ladder Example

Anonymous Student

  • No Right Turn – 256pgs
  • Forever – 178pgs
  • Othello – 154pgs
  • My Orange Duffel Bag – 202pgs
  • Jumping off Swings – 230pgs
  • The Great Gatsby – 189pgs

Reading Rate Trimester Two: 1209 pags / 12 weeks = average of 100.75 pages per week

Reading Rate Reflection: Reading is difficult for me right now mostly because of comprehension problems and lack of interest. My reading rate is relatively low comparing to classmates however 1209 pages in 12 weeks is fantastic to me that is probably more than ive read out of books in my life but i do understand i need to continue growing as a reader and open my mind to different types of literature i have found myself checking in new areas for books and really asking friends who know me best what they would recommend this trimester has been  much different with reading but the main goal from this point forward is to read at home more.

I have improved a lot more than i ever would have thought in the first week of school i came into this class thinking reading is not my cup of tea it made my eyes hurt looking at the pages my brain would pound after reading a chapter and i wasn’t interested in anything but it did not take long and i wouldn’t put some books down i’ve been reading more magazine articles and the newspaper every once in awhile also i started to really dig into deeper thought about what i want to read next and a lot of this growth in reading has given me a mental drive to write more which has always been my favorite topic in school until high school so over all  reading is advancing me in more places than reading.

Book Reviews & Text Complexity: No Right Turn was the easiest book i’ve read this trimester however it was my favorite. i was introduced to this book by Mrs. Beaton and i really enjoyed it i have even considered reading it again. what makes this book difficult for me was the parts when the main character would think back years time and talk about his thoughts but it wasn’t very hard to follow.

The second book would be Forever and this book is a great young adult book in my eyes and a great piece of literature at times the drama and “girl talk” could be hard to follow and the pregnancy issues were interesting to read about i really enjoyed this book because it was all high school drama and because i’m a 10th grade adolescent all i am surrounded by durring the day is highschool drama.

Next i dug up the book Othello this book was difficult not only because its a shakespearean tragedy but the form it was written in was a play format and i did not enjoy it in the beginning of the book however Mrs. Beaton had use act it out in class and we were assigned individual parts also when some words didn’t make sense, mostly fault of the old english writing, on the other side of the book a modern version was offered of the same play and this in the end really helped me grow as a reader that constant struggle with reading is not a good sign but i overcame that and finally started to understand the tragedy.

After that, the autobiography My Orange Duffel bag was new in this class and despite the elusiveness of me holding a book at this point i was first on the list to read it and i passed it up at first however Mrs. Beaton told the class a little bit more about it and i felt the need to give it a chance and i have to admit i really enjoyed it. The difficulty with this book was the few moments reading about his college football life and the only reason i claim this is because i’m adolescent not really a huge fan of sports “jocks” also have never had a true interest in football but this book is much more than that and i’m glad i got the opportunity to read it.

the next book can be argued the most difficult out of two but i really enjoyed it Jumping off Swings was an excellent book i think many young adults should read however the most complicated part with this book is the fact it is told from four points of view and each chapter is a different person’s point of view only changing between the four friends and how they see life drive by. This is a style of writing i am not familiar with however i was interested and would love to try it with a story of my own.

finally the hardest book i’ve read ever was this trimester The Great Gatsby however i was not a huge fan of this book but i think if i could totally understand it and compare it to the american dream and view any other perks it may have to offer i feel i would appreciate Gatsby a lot more and my respect would build

Personal Goals: I am more than satisfied with my reading rate and really appreciate the opportunity i have here in class to read like i do the past nine years of school i spent fake reading and  googling books however i am happy to say i don’t really do that anymore i am really enjoying reading in school i still struggle to read at home now and then but as one of my goals i will read 15 books this trimester and i will get there without gimping out on children’s books but on top of that i will start reading 30 minutes at home every night to strengthen my reading skills i may have got a late start on the reading and loving books but i’m glad it’s now and not never  really happy to see how blind i was up until this year when it came to books. Next i would like to read a nonfiction.

I’d love to hear how you’re using Reading Ladders in your classroom, so please share your ideas below. I’m always hungry for more student examples and variations of the process.

Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Classroom Library Organization

Tools for Classroom Library Set-UpThis video is part of the teacher tip series, “How to Create Book Hype.” In this video, I’m discussing how to increase the love around choice reading by organizing your classroom library in a way that will support your students’ access to books. Every teacher organizes his/her classroom library in a way that suits their style and needs. Through trial and lots of time-wasting errors, I want to share what I do now to help both me and my students do more reading.

Q: Where do you get most of your books?

A: My books have come from a variety of awesome blessings. I have purchased a large number on my own, mostly through discounted methods, such as public library book sales, the used shelves at a local bookstores, and used Amazon books. Next, I use DonorsChoose to draw on the amazing help of all those generous souls out there. I was really reluctant to use this method originally, because I didn’t want to beg my friends and family for money. I do post an occasional request on Facebook every once in a while, but I have to say that my cousin showed me that there are people out there looking to donate to causes where they can see their funds actually make a difference. This has been amazing. Following those avenues, I write a number of various grants and place requests from my district.

Q: Where did you get your book shelves?Classroom Library

A: My large shelves came from a local video store that was going out of business. Along with a few of my teacher-friends, we scooped them up for a good deal. All we had to do was the tear-down and assembly, which my engineer husband did. (Thanks, Matty!) While it’s sad that Netlix is squashing these local businesses, we teachers can benefit from these awesome shelves. I like mine because they’re tall (sometimes too tall for my lil’ high schoolers), tilted, and not too deep. These attributes make accessing books easier for my students.

My little classroom library during my first year teaching

Q: How do you label your books?

A: I use genre labels from Demco, reinforced with a strip of packaging tape. I mark my last name on the edge of the book. This helps lost books return to my classroom. I also write the reading level on the inside of the first page; since my students have a basic understanding of Lexile levels, I use those.

Q: What is your student check-in/check-out system?

Inside our defective binder check-out system

A: When my library was still small, during my first few years teaching, I had a binder system. Each time kids checked out books, they wrote their name, the book title, and date. When they returned it, they’d place the book in a basket, find their original sign-out date, and record the return date in the binder. Then, I spent far too much time re-shelving the books and updating the binder. This was a major waste of time. I tried to employ “class librarians,” however, sophomores–like me–have a lot better ways to spend their time. Our former binder check-out system

Now, we use Booksource’s Classroom Organizer. We’re lucky to have one-to-one netbooks in the Tech 21 Academy; however, I can see how if this were not the case, I would still use this resource to check-in and -out books from my teacher computer. To view a tutorial on how to get set up with Classroom Organizer, check out the video below.

Since this organization process is all about getting more books into the hands of students, I’m curious. What do you do ease the access to books for students?

Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Book Speed Dating

Book Speed DatingFlirt, woo, and start a relationship with a book!

This video is part of the teacher tip series, “How to Create Book Hype,” wherein I discuss how to increase the love around choice reading by doing Book Speed Dating in class with your students. This activity can be modified for at any grade level, even though we compare it to the high school dating scene of checkin’ out potential love interests. I generally do this activity on the first day of a new class, mostly as a way to introduce students to my classroom library and choice reading expectations.

Q: How do I get my students started? 

A: Since this activity works no matter the size of your classroom library, you can start in a couple different ways.  If your library is still growing or you want them to speed date with a specific genre/topic, I’d begin by pulling all of the books off the shelves and arranging the desks in a circle.  Personally, I like to use this structure when we’re beginning a new history unit or after we’ve received a recently fulfilled Donors Choose project.  If I want them to speed date with all of the books, like on the first day of class, I have the kids pull books themselves, but I ask them to grab a specific blend of genres. 

Q: Other than books, what do they need to speed date?

A: Anytime my students are speed dating (or participating in any kind of book talk, for that matter), they take out their To-Read Lists. I have these pre-printed and always up-for-grabs in my classroom, so if a kid fills their list, they can get a new one independent of me. My To-Read List provides space for students to quickly jot down the title, author, genre, and basic story-line gist. This helps kids find books that we previously talked about. I don’t know about your students, but mine continuously say, “Mrs. Beaton, what’s the name of that one book you told us about a few weeks ago? You know, that one where <insert vague comment here>.” This also falls under Donalyn Miller‘s Reading in the Wild idea about teaching kids to always have a reading plan.  It’s great when you’re conferring with kids and ask what they’re planning to read next, and they respond by saying, “Oh! I’ve got like five good things on my To-Read list!”

Q: What does Book Speed Dating look like in action?

A: Once students have a book stack in front of them, we do a mini-lesson on how to flirt with a book by checking out the body of the book: the cover, awards, author blurbs, copyright page summary, etc. At this, without fail, my high schoolers start joking about “how good the backside looks” on each book.

From there, it becomes a free-for-all. Students either work through their self-collected stacks or start passing the books around the circle.  Some kids either know their tastes so well or are stuck in a reading rut that they super-speed date. My students often tease these kids saying they have “commitment issues.”

Generally, the pass-around starts to slow down when kids find titles they don’t want to share. The goal isn’t necessarily to get through all the books but to increase the exposure to titles they might not randomly grab off the shelves on their own. We always save time to not only talk about those “love at first sight” titles and our “potential future relationships” but also to re-shelve the books.

Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading: Book Waterfall

While the amazingness of choice reading is well-known, some teachers are still hesitant because of–what they assume to be–students’ reluctance towards reading. We know better than that though.  Students are starving for good books!  If they’ve been educated in past system that doesn’t nourish them with enough choice, many students give off  “reluctant beamers” simply because they don’t know how to choose books for themselves.

The following video will be part of teacher tip series on increasing the love and hype around choice reading. This particular video discusses how to use Book Waterfalls with your students. They’re a quick and easy way to share lots of titles with your students.