What We’re Reading

It’s been awhile since I wrote about books. I didn’t realize how many of you actually like to know what I’m reading, what my kids are reading, and what my students are reading!

I’ll start with my reading pile.

I’m currently reading Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen. He will be the visiting author at our school in January, so I am teaching this book in the next few weeks. I’m pretty excited about it because it’s so different than any book I’ve ever taught.2015-10-28 22.00.13

Clara and Elias are randomly next to each other on a flight to the United States. On the flight, Clara tries to strike up a conversation with Elias and realizes that he knows something about her past–something she is trying to keep hidden in the past. After they part ways, she realizes their backpacks were switched, and when she brings his back to his residence, she realizes that the Elias she met on the plane is not the same Elias that greets her at the door.

We just had Eddie’s parent/teacher conference this week and found out he is meeting benchmarks that surpass first grade in both reading and math. The kid loves learning. We had two Captain Underpants books at home and these have now become Eddie’s favorite.

We have read three of the series so far (numbers 1, 3, and 4). Eddie has put the rest on his Christmas list. I’ll be honest and say I think they are pretty dumb, but they are silly and they keep Eddie interested in reading.

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Charlie tries to listen to the chapter books at bedtime, but is usually uninterested if there are not pictures on the page. He usually picks from our enormous pile of picture books. Eddie also chooses books from his school library that he thinks Charlie will enjoy. This usually means we read a Curious George book at bedtime too.

It’s interesting to watch my students are reading. There are certain books and series from last year that were wildly popular that just haven’t been checked out much, but there are others that collected dust last year that have been constantly checked out this year.

A few of the favorites so far this year (that I haven’t mentioned before) include:

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Paper Towns by John Green – Ok, I mentioned this one before. But it’s hugely popular right now because of the movie and because Looking For Alaska is pretty similar, that one is always checked out too.

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon – This book was new to my library this year and my students discovered it in the nonfiction section before I could read it. It’s a memoir about how Runyon attempted suicide as a teenager by setting himself on fire.

Gone (the series) by Michael Grant — Once kids have read through The Hunger Games and Divergent series they want something new. In this series, all the adults have been wiped out leaving only kids, toddlers, and babies to fend for themselves.

Bone (the series) by Jeff Smith — I really know nothing about this series because the minute I put it in my library it was all checked out. All of it. Reluctant readers (mostly boys) flock to this.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B Cooney — This actually a series too. I got it because this year I have quite a few reluctant readers who asked for mysteries. Since they were not big readers to begin with, my Agatha Christie was not appealing to them. I needed something YA to get their attention. Because of the popularity of this one, I just added the next in the “Janie Johnson Series”.

We Were Liars by e. lockhart — Ok fine. I mentioned this one before too. BUT in my defense that was before school started. This is one that the both boys and girls love to read. I’ve got quite the wait list for this one.

Ok, I showed you mine, now you show me yours. What are YOU reading? Or have I tempted you with any of these?

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If you want to help give my students more books to choose from, check out my Project for getting 25 new books here. I only need $120!

Oh Yeah, I Teach Too.

The first thing people ask me when they see me is, “So. How is the school year going?”

I realized today that I am constantly answering that question in real life, but have been weirdly quiet about it here.   Today was the last day of the first marking period. One quarter of the school year is already over.  That is sort of crazy to me. I mean, it feels like we just started.

So how is it going?

In a word: Great.

Last year was Ok. It was better than I thought it would be, but I told myself I wouldn’t make a judgement based on my first year–one where I was overly tired and emotional due to being pregnant. And one I didn’t finish because of said pregnancy.

This year is already a million times better if only because I have much more energy. I mean, I don’t have to waddle my way to the copy room only to need a nap when I get back. So you know, bonus!

My Reader’s Workshop is off to a really good start. There are still parts I need to tweak, but the kids are responding well to it. They are enjoying reading what they want to read, and I’ve gotten positive feedback from them on the amount of time I give them to silent read.

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This year I also added the Reader’s Notebook portion where I give them 4-5 minutes to respond to their reading.  This part may need some adjusting. I showed the students the notebook that I am keeping, and I share it with them every week so they can get some ideas for their own. Some kids are doing a ridiculously awesome job; others are trying to just get by with a one-or-two-sentence summary each time. My goal is to get kids to think deeper about what they read, but I don’t want it to turn into busy work. It needs to feel like an authentic way to put their own voice into what they are experiencing via the written word.

 

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We’ve also been writing. I find that with some of the curricular requirements I have (reading a full-class novel each quarter and doing vocab lists), I don’t have the time to set up workshops the way I would like. I think if it were up to me, our entire class would be set up as a workshop. We would always be in either Reader’s Workshop or Writer’s Workshop mode. I haven’t found a way to do that with us reading a whole class novel and doing sixty vocabulary words a marking period, but I do feel like I am making progress.

This quarter we wrote personal narratives using the This I Believe essay format (from NPR). We did each of the steps together: I modeled it, then they did it. I wish we had had about one more week for them to do some peer-work with them. They didn’t turn out exactly as I had hoped. Some kids did fantastic, of course, but overall I felt I could do a better job.

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The last thing I have incorporated this year is the anchor chart. I have full-on-embraced those things and the kids love them! I have been making them for everything! We have character charts, plot maps, grammar charts, critical reading charts, writing charts…they are EVERYWHERE! All the research I have done supports the use of visual cues as a way to help students absorb what they learn, so I do it.

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I’ve been working hard to write about what I’m doing and what is best practice over at The Educator’s Room as well as sites like Nerdy Book Club, Writers Who Care, and others. I also presented again at the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE) conference.

While I feel good about what I am doing and where I am going and my level of involvement in my own professional development, I guess I haven’t written about it because I don’t want to toot my own horn too much. I mean, as I typed up each of the above things, my head was swimming with the kids I’m still not reaching, what we still need to work on, and how I could do it better and more efficiently than I am now.

I’m reluctant to yell, LOOK AT ALL MY AWESOME, when I feel like it’s not the level of awesome it could be. I mean, the ideas are awesome. The practice COULD be awesome, but it still needs work.

So yes, the school year is going great…but I am also still working on it.

Getting Ready for Back to School

It’s that time of year again…back to school! I started thinking about this all the way back in June when I was technically “done” with  my maternity leave. I have been off for over five months at this point, and I am pretty ready to be back working.

Actually, I am mostly ready. My boys are definitely ready for a school day schedule, but Alice and I could really just hang together.

When I think about getting back in my room and planning for a new year, I do get pretty excited. Another year of lighting up young readers!

As usual, I need a little help. I’ve gotten some great new books for my classroom library, but I always need more. The more the kids read, the more, well, they WANT to read! So there are two ways you can support the addiction I hope to ignite for reading:

One is by choosing to purchase a book or two from our Classroom Library Wishlist. Everything on here is either requested by students or things I found I know they will love.

Another way is a fundraiser I am doing via Thirty-One. Whatever proceeds from what you buy via this “party” link, will go towards my classroom library and supplies. This is open to US shipping addresses only, but it’s a great way to get some great items and give to a great cause at the same time!

And lastly, if you’re not into buying books, I have a list of supplies I could use too! Each teacher in my school only gets $100 to spend. That doesn’t even cover the cost of one notebook per student for me (I have around 135 students). Therefore, I created a Supply Wish List as well.

I know I ask a lot and you all give a lot.

Please know writing these things and asking is hard for me. I am ashamed that we cannot afford to buy the things I need to make my classroom great. I am sad that my school doesn’t have enough funding to give every teacher unlimited access to great supplies for our students.

I was asked about supply lists by UpWorthy this week, and I admitted we (in Michigan) cannot even send supply lists home. Public schools here cannot require that students purchase anything for school. We must provide it. Truth be told, most of my students wouldn’t be able to afford supply lists anyway.

I want you to know that every donation makes my heart happy, but more than that, it helps students.

I want you to know that even if you can’t donate, your prayers for my students and sharing my need with others who may be able to donate is even more valuable than you can know.

I want you to know I love my job, but I hate the politics of it.

I want you to know I work for a district that loves LOVES its students and would give all this and more to my classes if it could. I don’t work for a stingy district. I work for one that has only one focus: kids’ learning.

I want you to know that I appreciate the ability to write this knowing somehow the supplies and books will come in and my students will have what they need.

Thank you.

And happy back to school! Let the learning begin!

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Because of You…

I’ve been blogging for eight years right here on Sluiter Nation. At this point, I can’t imagine my life without this blog. My life would definitely not be the same without my space here on the internet, because really, blogging hasn’t just been me writing here. It’s gone way beyond that.

From my chair, I can look around me and see ways blogging has touched our lives.

I have books on the shelf next to me by bloggers and friends. I have books on the shelf that I am included in. My writing. Writing that would have never ever found it’s way to a book if it wasn’t for this space, social media, and all the people who put up with love me around the interwebs.

There are photos and gifts from people I wouldn’t know without this blog.

All three of my children’s lives have been documented here. Alice is currently sucking on a doll that was sent to her from a blogger friend. My coffee that I am sipping is from a mug from another blogger friend.

If I am being totally honest, I am a mom of three, in part, because of you. You who have supported me and given me encouraging words and prayers. You who helped me through those very very dark days when Eddie was a baby. You who continue to send your love when I falter.

Probably the most visible way the interwebs have supported me though, is through my classroom library.

I wish more than anything that I could take you all into my classroom and show you the library. Show you the transformation from 104 books to over 600 titles. Show you how my students came to rely on those books and love them. And yes, even lose some of them because they were so loved.

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I created a Classroom Wish List on Amazon. Originally there was about a hundred titles and I needed to keep adding more because you all responded like crazy!

Now, there are over 500 titles on that wish list. Those titles came mostly from my students asking for more books! Others came from my anticipating the needs of students, reading new book lists, and getting recommendations from other readers of YA lit. I’ve also purchased about ten books this summer (and hope to take advantage of Amazon Prime Day for some more!).

I always have a need for more books.

In fact, I just created a project on DonorsChoose.org to hopefully fund a project that will put 50 new titles in my classroom library. Check out my project here.

I am not asking you to donate (although I would certainly love that, but so many of you have already to this library in various ways already). I would love it, though if you would share my project. Maybe with a business that is looking for a cause to give to.

I only need $300 more to get the project funded. This week each dollar donated with the code SPARK will get matched. Which means I REALLY only need about $150 in donation dollars to get my project funded*.

It’s a charitable donation, so it’s tax deductible as well.

Thank you. Thank you for reading me and hearing me and loving me.

But mostly? Thank you for loving my students whom you have never met.

Because of you, they read.

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*If the giving goes over what I need, it will be saved in gift codes for me to apply to future projects I create for my classroom.

 

 

Why I Don’t Assign Reading Logs

I’m going to ruffle some English teacher feathers with this, but I don’t assign reading logs to my junior high students. Nor do I require my Kindergartener to do the ones that are sent home with him.

In fact, I think that reading logs are one of the biggest ways to kill the love of reading in anyone, but especially in kids who are just getting their feet wet as readers and are so impressionable.

This isn’t just my isolated opinion though; it’s been researched and shown that reading logs turn kids off to reading rather than make them stronger, more literate students. Reading logs are not the habits of life-long readers, rather the practices of people who “have to get this done”. Reading logs create another chore, another thing on the agenda for kids.

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A main focus of books like  Book Love by Penny Kittle and The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller is that we should be creating life-long readers by teaching them the habits of life-long readers.  I consider myself a life-long reader since I have been reading for pleasure longer than I can remember.

Some traits I know about life-long readers:

  • they have a To Read list (or pile)
  • they know where to get more books
  • they talk about what they read
  • they find time to read because they look forward to it.
  • and they do NOT log how many pages they read each day or summarize what they’ve read each time or create a diorama of a book when they are done. THEY JUST READ.

I know a lot of adult who are book lovers and genuine readers and none of them, to my knowledge, keep a reading log. Some may keep lists of what they’ve read (find me on GoodReads! That is where I keep my lists!), and some are writers and tend to keep a journal of their thoughts, which may include what they read. But none…NONE…have a spreadsheet-style paper they pull out of a folder and record the exact number of minutes, the pages, and a summary each time they read. That would take out all the joy, right?

So why do we think having kids do that will equate to them wanting to read?

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My boys currently LOVE books. We read almost every day. Eddie has reading homework 4 days a week, yes, but he also volunteers to read the bedtime book occasionally. Other nights Cortney or I read the story while the boys snuggle together in the bottom bunk. Since Charlie moved from the nursery to the “Big Boy Room”, he has been introduced to all the non-board books in the house and he can’t get enough! It’s fabulous!

Eddie’s teacher also sends home a monthly reading log in calendar form. It’s not required that he do it, but if he “reads for 20 minutes every day” and colors in each day AND has a parent sign it, he can get a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut.

I sign that thing every month.  Eddie doesn’t even like Pizza Hut pizza, but he does like checking off each day. Do we read for 20 minutes when we read? Sometimes. Sometimes it’s much more when the boys get on a “book binge”. Some days it’s not at all if we have been going all day and then have plans in the evening that get us home too late to read before bed.

But we still cross off every day. I don’t even think Eddie is aware that there is a 20-minute time minimum.

I figure the point of the Pizza Hut reading program is to get kids reading and loving it. Eddie already is and does! So why make it a timed chore?

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My students are all well-accustomed to having to fill out reading logs. When I announced that we would be doing Reader’s Workshop at the beginning of the year, there were many groans and mummers of “reading logs”.  When I announced I don’t “do” reading logs there were cheers. One class even gave me a standing ovation.

Now that we are halfway through the year, I have asked my students if they miss reading logs, if reading logs were easier than the short assignments and in-front-of-class book talks they have to give now. There were a few that said yes. Those students admitted they could easily lie on reading logs and get their points and never have to actually read.  In my class, they have to read.

Most students, however, said they don’t miss them at all. They don’t mind the assignments because they are around the book they are reading and not something I am making them read. They also get time in class to read a book of their choice, so journal entries, character maps, and 1-page responses don’t really feel like so hard.

They also enjoy talking about their books either to each other or to me. While there are still many who get nervous to get in front of class, the formal Book Talks are the #1 way kids decide what they want to read next.

And guess what…they are reading. Without logging every page on a spreadsheet.

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This is the only spreadsheet they see. It’s passed around the room on a clipboard so I can see what kids are reading. They are not graded on how much they read, but it gives me a starting point for our conferences.

 

What my students are doing is much closer to what I do when I settle in with my book each night on the couch, cup of tea steaming next to me. And after I read, I tend to check social media and there are always a couple threads of friends asking “whatcha reading?” with long conversations about good books and crappy books.

As I add my thoughts to these threads, I smile because I am doing exactly what my students are asked to do: read and talk about books.

Every Child, Every Day

I spend a lot of time worrying about other people’s kids and whether or not they are reading, what they are reading, and if they are choosing things that are right for them.

In the first 10 minutes of class, my students are busy writing in their journals and getting their independent reading books out. Every day. I spend that 10 minutes walking around making sure every child has written something and has something to read. Every day. In fact, today during first hour I wrote three passes to the media center, had four kids check out books from my library, and conferenced with two kids who were having trouble getting started.  This is pretty typical for all of my hours.

I spend a large chunk of every day focused only on other kids’ reading.

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Last night, Eddie read a whole book to me.

A REAL book, not just one of his “just right library” books that says things like, “I see a dog,” and “I see a cat” on each page.  He read me, cover to cover, one of the Elephant and Piggie books, My Friend is Sad. If you know those books, you know they rely heavily on HOW you read the book too, and Eddie rocked it out. I spent a lot of time watching him rather than looking at the pages he was reading.

I was amazed.

My baby…ok, my oldest, but still…my BABY was READING a real BOOK.

And he loved it.

He didn’t fill out a reading log afterward (although school does send home a calendar each month and if you read for 20 minutes each day–and color in the days accordingly–you get a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut. Not really my philosophy of creating readers, but Eddie does it for the joy of reading right now, and I am letting that just flow) or make a diorama. Instead he goes back to the cover and exclaims that the book is pretty funny and maybe the book fair will have more Elephant and Piggie books to choose from.

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Today when I pick Eddie up he will have two new books from a book order and whatever he chose at the book fair. He was still going back and forth about Skippy John Jones or Pete the Cat this morning as I hugged him goodbye, so I am eager to find out what he chose…what we will be reading together tonight.

I know he will keep the books out of his backpack and he’ll be holding them in his hand when I get to school.  I know he will smile and run when he sees me, waving the books to tell me what he bought. I know he will “take a picture walk” through them in the car to decide which one we should read first.

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Every time Eddie and I sit to read, I think about my students. How many of them were this ravenous about reading when they were in Kindergarten? How many of those kids “lost” that desire…and when did it happen?

Did those kids get a chance to read every single day like Eddie does?  Like I try to give them now?

I follow Richard Allington’s wordsEvery child, every day. This includes not just my students, but my own kids as well.

Close and Critical Reading

Because one of my district’s School Improvement Goals is literacy-based, we developed an assessment called Close and Critical Reading (CCR). I know what you’re thinking…aw jeez, another assessment.

Hear me out.

Teaching CCR skills helps students not just understand what they read better, but it helps them to intelligently talk about the features of the text, the inferences they can make, and the connections they see. Students are given a text appropriate to the content of the class they are in (we do this across the curriculum so students can build their skills in all sorts of texts, not just fiction in the English class). Then they are given four questions:

  1. What does the text say? (summarize)
  2. How does the text say it? (discuss genre, features, and language)
  3. Why does the text say it? (inference of theme, lesson, or slice of life)
  4. So what? (making connections both with self and society)

We give the test as a summative assessment four times a year (once per marking period), but we do formative assessments of these skills almost daily–at least in the English Language Arts classes.

I have been doing CCR-type lessons with my high school students for year, but now that I am a junior high teacher, I need to remember that these students need the basics before they can refine the skills.

This led me to create my very first anchor charts!
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You can see that I do not have the neatness and creativity of a seasoned anchor chart maker, but I did my best.
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and as we move on, you can tell I lost my patience with trying to write neatly…
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and instead of starting over when there were boo boos, I just fudged it.

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In order to teach these skills, we also teach active reading, but that is another post.

It’s funny because if you tell the students they are learning CCR skills, they get all groany. But if you just have them do the skills without labeling, they do it with {almost} no whining.

Couple this with all the “free” silent reading we do in class in our own books means we are building much better readers…and kids who actually like to read!

Blame the Common Core!

 

Since school has started, I have seen all the usual complaints on Facebook about the evils of the Common Core.

I don’t get the math!  Blame the Common Core!

My kid takes test every other minute!  Blame the Common Core!

My kid has too much homework! Blame the Common Core!

I heard that cursive no longer needs to be taught! Blame the Common Core!

Teachers are given scripts to read; they aren’t teaching anymore! Blame the Common Core!

It snowed in November causing a snow day! Blame the Common Core!

Ok, maybe I didn’t hear that last one, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if I did. Lately all the ails of education are being firmly blamed on the Common Core State Standards. As a teacher, this gets tiring to hear/read.

First of all, I didn’t create the Common Core, I just follow the standards. Secondly, I am not opposed to the Common Core. In fact, I sort of like them. I have enjoyed creating projects and lessons more in the past couple years than I have in the decade before. I personally feel more freedom to just be a GOOD teacher.  Let me break it down for you:

Math is hard.

I’m not a math teacher, so it’s hard for me to explain this part to you. I wrote about the math standards last year. Now that I have a son in Kindergarten, I have been following the math standards more closely. I am pleased that not only is he meeting each standard, but I see evidence of how he is learning it through the work that comes home in his folder. The math, so far, seems like it is doing a better job teaching students what numbers mean and how math actually works rather than having them do rote memorization. I think this video explains the math better than I can.

So many tests!

I’m not sure if this is a state thing or a district thing, but I am not seeing it in my district in Michigan. When parents (and even teachers) complain that assessments are taking over their instruction time, I’m not entirely sure if they mean mandated testing (by the state, district, etc) or if they mean assessments their department has put into place.

I give assessments, but they have nothing to do with the fact that I am following common core and everything to do with it being an end of a unit (in vocab or grammar). Papers and projects also count as assessments. And technically I am assessing my students’ understanding daily whether I put it in the gradebook as an official summative assessment or not.

The only assessments that my students HAVE to take outside of my class curriculum are the SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory) Test (4 times a year) and the SMI (scholastic math inventory) Test (4 times a year). They also take the state test once a year (in April).

Too much homework!

I don’t know what to tell you here. Homework is not anywhere in the Common Core Standards. In fact, I assign almost no homework.

Homework is an implementation thing. So if you feel your child has too much, you should be talking with the teacher and/or administration.

No more cursive???

Ok, it’s true. Cursive is not included in the Common Core State Standards. But neither is Tuesdays with Morrie and I’m teaching that to my 8th graders. The Common Core are standards that every child in that grade should achieve. That doesn’t mean teachers can’t go beyond the standards. Just because cursive isn’t required in the standards, doesn’t mean teachers aren’t teaching it.

Teacher Scripts.

I’ve heard of this happening. Or at least I’ve heard of districts telling teachers what and how to teach. That is not happening in my district. In fact, I think it’s happening in districts that are panicked about the Common Core and how they can “teach to the test” given in their state.

The teachers in our district (and others across Michigan) have worked hours and hours to actually make learning more student-centered; to create project-based, inquiry-based, and authentic learning for their students.  Since adopting the Common Core in our district years ago (when it was first mentioned in the state), we have actually made more room for good teachers to do good teaching.

If you feel the teachers in your district are being told how to teach–and it’s not good teaching–speak up! No where in the Common Core does it say HOW to teach, only what standards to teach.

Snow Day in November??

This happened here because of a foot of snow. Not the fault of the common core.

Are there issues with the Common Core? Yes. They have become very political, money has ruled (the way it does everything else in this country), and it’s being implemented poorly in some areas.

However, as a teacher in the trenches of it all, dealing with matching what I do with these “new” standards, I like it. I block out much of the politics and bickering about testing and I just do what I do: teach the best I can.

I really believe that is what the majority of teachers are doing. I know my son’s Kindergarten teacher is doing a fabulous job…not because of the common core nor in spite of them, but because he is an amazing teacher.

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I am a part of the Michigan Education Association’s (MEA) Common Core Cadre that works to inform and aid districts across Michigan on best practice of implementing the Common Core State Standards. I’ve also been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan on the subject.

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The best way to be a great student no matter what the standards is to be a great reader!  Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for the children’s book Stand Up!

Five Books You (& your teen) Need to Read NOW!

I’ve been doing Reader’s Workshop with my 8th and 9th graders for almost 11 weeks now, and I have noticed that there are certain books I simply can’t keep on my shelves. There is constantly a wait list for these books.

Sometimes I start the craze by doing a book talk that gets the kids interested.

Sometimes they start their own craze–someone reads the book and tells a friend, and he tells a friend, and so on and so forth.  That is my favorite. In fact I was standing outside my classroom door in between classes today when I heard one of my students yell down the hall to another one of my students, “DUDE!  You checked out MY book!  I was going to get it today and you BEAT ME TO IT!  You better read fast!”

I don’t think I noticed anything else that happened today. That one interaction made me so happy.

Anyway, I thought I would share with you the Top 5 books (or series)* that I probably won’t see on my shelves again until I take inventory this summer.

Winger by Andrew Smith

I read this book on the recommendation of my friend, The Preacher’s Wife. She almost had no words for how it affected her.  The book is about a kid named Ryan Dean who everyone calls Winger due to his position on the school rugby team. He is a 14-year old junior at a very prestigious private school, that his parents put him in after he couldn’t stay out of trouble back home. On top of being young and ridiculously smart, Ryan Dean is also in love with his best friend, Annie, a fellow junior (but who is 17). His dorm-mate is the biggest bully on the rugby team and he is constantly fighting the label “kid”. This book is laugh-out-loud hilarious, but will tear you apart and leave you changed. One caveat: it has some pretty raunchy language, but it flows so well with the book, to me it’s forgivable.

The Selection (series) by Kiera Cass

I have not read this series, but I haven’t been able to keep it in my classroom since I got it. I have the first two books in the trilogy plus a special stories book that just came out in paperback. The girls in my classes check in daily to see if I have gotten the third book!  I have a lot of girls who love The Princess Diaries series, and once they finish that they want something similar. This series has some of the same aspects, but is more of a challenging read.

The reviews I read say the trilogy is like The Hunger Games meets The Bachelorette. Thirty-five girls are “selected” to vie for the crown. The main character, America Singer, is bummed to be selected because that means she is now a caste above the boy she loves, but in the process of competition she meets a prince. So there’s romance and royalty and back-stabbing.

The teenage girls love it.

The Maze Runner (series) by James Dashner

Again, I haven’t read this one, but holy cow kids love it. Boys AND girls fight to get their hands on this series. I have all four books now: The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure, and most recently added, the prequel to the series, The Kill Order. 

Apparently it’s everything I am not a fan of in books and the masses LOVE it. Most of the kids who pick it up have already worked through The Hunger Games series AND The Divergent Series and are looking for something new.  According to the student I asked today, it’s about a guy who can only remember his name. He has no other memories and all the people around him are guys and the only way out is through this maze that no one has yet made it out of. A girl shows up and says they have to run or die.  The student wouldn’t tell me more other than, “just read the book, Mrs. S. That is what you tell us!”

Fricking kids actually listening to what I say.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

The girls in my classes pretty much keep my “death & dying section” completely empty. As I type this there are zero books on that shelf.  This is another book I haven’t read yet. Not because I don’t want to, but because my students really want it, so I am just waiting until either summer, or when I can check it out of the library over a break (or maternity leave).

The book is about a kid named Clay who gets a package from a classmate (and crush), Hannah, who committed suicide. Inside the package are cassette tapes where Hannah narratives 13 reasons why she killed herself, one of them being Clay.  He has to listen to find out why.

From that alone I can see why my students want to read it. I mean shoot, want to read it.

Why Soccer Matters by Pele

I use this one as an example, but really any soccer books fly off my shelves. I have so many soccer fans. I also have a book by Dr. J that my basketball players keep rotating among themselves. Students who claim to not be readers, tend to get interested in non-fiction about people and sports and activities they love. This is one section of my classroom library I am really trying to beef up. Even though these are not my first choice of book, many of my students gravitate toward these.

When I have a reluctant reader, the first thing I ask is “what do you like to do?” If they are into a sport or a hobby, I direct them to my nonfiction section. It seems that if I can get them hooked there, they are likely to ask for more books.  What is interesting is that nonfiction tends to be more challenging to read than a lot of the fiction I have, yet my reluctant and non-readers would rather read (and be seen with) a book about a soccer champ, than something else.

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any suggestions based on these? What are your teens reading?

*I could include in here The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie in this, but I already posted about those and how you need to read them.

My students are HUNGRY for new books! If you are feeling generous, we are always taking donations. Here is a list of student-requested titles.

Living the Reader’s Workshop

Friday I missed school to attend–and present–at the MCTE (Michigan Council of Teachers of English) annual conference in Lansing.

I haven’t been to the conference in years, but this year I was invited to create a presentation proposal with two professors from a local private college about using Reader’s Workshop. Our proposal was accepted and before I knew it, I was on the schedule and registered as a presenter.

The presentation went really well.

My part was first and concentrated on using the Reader’s Workshop with 8th and 9th graders. I also gave my perspective as someone who is very new (only 9 weeks of experience) and what successes and challenges I am seeing so far.

This is where I wish my dumb blog would allow me to add pictures.  In just nine weeks I had an enormous reaction to Reader’s Workshop.

On the day that I was out presenting, I had my students fill out a personal reflection sheet about how it’s been going. Almost unanimously, students agreed that the time we read in class is important and they wish we could do it more often. With the exception of only 5 or less students, everyone said the wish we could read LONGER than 20 minutes and more OFTEN than 3 times a week.

I wholeheartedly agree!

Kids also asked for more books. More from series that I already have, more biographies and memoirs of athletes, more titles like (fill in the blank), more, more, MORE!

Do you know how fantastic it is to hear kids who ten weeks ago claimed, “I don’t really like to read. It’s not my thing,” ask for MORE BOOKS??? It’s amazing!

Kids are also recommending books to each other and telling their parents about their books. At parent teacher conferences tonight I lost track  of how many parents said, “S/he said the other night s/he was going to go read. I couldn’t believe it!” This made me smile SO DANG BIG! And it backed up my claim that if you don’t think you like to read, you haven’t found the right book yet.

The presentation on Friday also gave me ideas of what else to slowly add. One presenter had a good chart for having the kids fill out each day what book they are reading and what page they are on. It’s more organized than my pieces of notebook paper I have been passing around and losing. Oops. I’m hoping that this will be better for data collection.

The other presenter had a cool quote analysis sheet I am going to do with students once a week where they choose a quote from their book to talk about what it means and what connections they can make to it.  This is also a good jumping point for some discussion and takes us beyond mere summarizing–our focus in the first quarter.

I do still have some challenges. Finding something that will get EVERY kid reading is still a struggle. There are a couple kids in each class that are either “book hoppers”–they “read” from a different book every time we have silent reading which really means they are not reading anything at all. Or they are “Media Center Denizens”–every time we are going to read they need to go look for a book in the media center because I just don’t have what they want in my classroom.

I also have a hard time with time. I have full novels I have to read each quarter with my classes as well as grammar, vocabulary, and writing that is mandatory. Being able to fully commit to the Reader’s Workshop model has been almost impossible, but I think I’m working it the best I can.

Next week I am going to share with you some of the books my students love best in case you are looking for gift ideas for the 13-15 year olds in your life!

If you are feeling like giving to students this season, you can find my Amazon Wish List for my Classroom Library here. We are ALWAYS taking donations (and the titles there are all student-generated).

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