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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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 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.

Tips for Getting Kids to Do More Choice Reading

“When face time is limited and testing demands are heavy, many teachers struggle to make meaningful connections with students. In this Michigan Reading Association break-out session, two high school teachers share ways of using YA lit as the voice that connects us to our students who run the gamut from at-risk to honors. They will also explore how to establish classroom libraries with current titles and relevant technologies.”

This Prezi was co-created with Lindsey Tilley, teacher at Northview High School, for the Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference in March 2012 and the Inter-Institutional Teacher Education Council of West Michigan Fire Up! Student Teacher Conference in October 2012.

Q: How do I hold my students accountable to choice reading?

A: Because many kids haven’t been given choice in the past, I am always amazed how simply challenging my students to read at least 20 choice  books during the school year actually makes them strive for this specific goal.  My students don’t always realize that there isn’t a grade attached to this goal, but because we talk about what we’re reading all the time in class, they want to maintain this community standard of success.

Some ways, I do this are the following:

  • “Require” they read a variety of genres, like Donalyn Miller’s mixed genre requirement chart. This pushes them out of their comfort genre, so even if the book their reading isn’t a higher Lexile level, it will probably be more complex for that student because he/she is tackling a new format.
  • Show them how to keep track of their reading rate, like Penny Kittle’s pass-around clip board method.This is a way for students to begin to take ownership of their own data. Schools are so data-driven that we might as well put some of that responsibility into the students’ hands; besides, once they start to monitor their own progress, they find it fascinating.
  • Ask them to analyze text complexity, like Teri Lesesne does with reading ladders. This reflection invites students to respond to their success and set goals for the future.  In fact, students are incredibly honest in their reflections. Take Aaron, who read 8 books in 12 weeks, for example: “I would say that this trimester I haven’t shown any growth as a reader, because I am still staying inside of my comfort zone as far as genres go.  I have however noticed an increased reading rate in myself and increased pleasure level from reading books, but I know that I need to pick books that are more challenging.” <<Here is the link to my Reading Ladder assignment description>>

Q: How do I find time to confer with all of my students, especially with large classes?

A: Honestly, this is a big challenge for me. For years, I admitted to my curriculum coach that I was actually afraid of conferring. I created all kinds of excuses questions to “get out of it,” maintaining that I should be reading when my students were reading.

  • What if I say the wrong thing or don’t know how to respond?
  • What if I haven’t read their books and they know?
  • They’re finally all reading! Aren’t they just going to stop reading if I’m not modeling what a good reader does during SSR?
  • Won’t everyone stop and talk to one another  if they either hear me whispering with a student?

Eventually, I realized that my excuses were getting in the way of best practice. I began with Regie Routman’s Informal Reading Conference form found in Reading Essentials; however, I found after a year that I spent too much time with each kid. This is a great “script,” but I wasn’t able to frequent everyone as often as necessary. This year, I physically shifted from using my binder notes to a small “detective” notebook. I’m basically doing a blend of what Donalyn, Penny, and Patrick Allen suggest. This has really changed the story of conferring for me, especially since it’s no longer one of horror.

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Q: How do I support my students’ choices?

A: On the first day of class, my students participate in a what we call Book Speed-Dating. I’ve also heard it called a Book Pass or  Book Frenzy. This activity is a fast way to expose students to a wide variety of books in our classroom library. Soon afterwards, I give my students a reading survey/inventory, mostly a blend of things I found from other expert teachers. Also during the start of the term, my students sign up for Goodreads accounts <<Slide # 6 of this VoiceThread video lesson plan shares a screencast tutorial of how students can sign up for Goodreads>> to learn what their classmates are reading and how to find suggestions for well-liked titles.

As the school year progresses, we regularly discuss as a class what we’re reading with one another through Book Waterfalls and daily Book Talks. This is really the key. Before I begin, students always have their To-Read Lists open and ready. In addition to regular book chats, I post what “Mrs. Beaton is currently reading…” just outside my classroom door. This year, I also took Donalyn’s suggestion and added the same information to my email signature.

Q: How do I promote “Book Love“in my classroom?

A: We do this a number of ways: tweeting authors, creating book waiting lists, showing YouTube book trailers, etc. But to get students into what Kelly Gallagher calls “reading flow,” or giving students the chance to engage themselves with books the way that everyone else does, we try to promote the notion that sometimes finishing a really great chapter or book is just more important than carrying on to our agenda’s next activity. So, in whispered tones, I’ll occasionally announce something like “Hey everyone, we’re nearing the end of Silent Reading; however, we’re going to keep going until Tristan finishes MazeRunner.” While my students think they’re “getting away” with something, this is really more about showing them what life-long readers do.

Q: How do I build my classroom library?

A: I have found the most success with Donors Choose and used book sales (like from public libraries and Amazon), yet I’ve also acquired books through Scholastic books sales, Ebay, and personal book donations from student/family/friends. Finally, I am very lucky to work in a school district that helps me build my library as well.  

The videos of my students featured below are embedded within the Prezi.