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).

He is Now a Role Model

A couple weeks ago, Cortney made his graduation from college official by participating in commencement. I proudly sat in the super hot field house packed tightly on a folding chair between my sister-in-law (bless her heart sitting there all first-trimestery) and a woman who was not tiny who decided to sit sideways in her seat which means her left thigh/butt cheek was all pressed on my thigh all the while a small boy about Eddie’s age sat backward in his folding chair in front of me swinging his legs and bruising up my shins nicely.

I fanned myself with the program.  You know…the program that had this in it:

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We craned our necks and saw him walk in.  One WOO WOO from Cort’s mom and he knew where we were seated, which meant that later, after all the speakers and honorary what-have-you’s when he was up front waiting to walk across the stage, he and I could exchange big stupid grins from across the huge field house.

Normally, the speeches and everything bore me to death, but I sort of paid attention to the commencement address this time (partly because she polled the audience to see how many people actually remember any of the graduation speeches they have ever heard and I could not raise my hand…which is especially sad not just because I sit through high school graduation every single year, but because some of those speeches? I helped write. Oops).

Anyway, the speech.  Her theme was Everything You Need to Know you Learned at GRCC.  It was cute and quirky and she even interviewed specific students to use their anecdotes. It was nice.

Most of that stuff I don’t remember.

What I do remember is that she told the graduates that they learned to be role models.

She, also a community college grad, related to the graduating class about WHY people choose to go to community college:  some for financial reasons…to get those “gen eds” out of the way on the cheap, but many many are there because of a negative reason: nowhere else would take them.

It brought me back to the night Cort got his honors medal.  Each student awarded was able to say a few words upon acceptance.  One beautiful young girl (young to me, she was probably in her 20’s) took the mic and told us that she had all the staff to thank.  She came to GRCC as a high school dropout who had messed up in every possible way, and now she was graduating with the highest honors the college could bestow upon her.

My eyes teared up.

Cort was not a high school dropout, but he didn’t do his best the first time he did college.  He wasn’t focused, he didn’t know what he wanted out of college, and he was just not ready.  He had been an Ok student in high school, but there you didn’t have to have a focus other than finishing the courses the counselors told you to do.  College was different, and after two years in two different universities, he left for the work world.

Five years ago, he and I sat down to talk about how much he hated his job at the time.  We talked about going back to school.

“For what? Sales? I hate my job,” he lamented.

“If you could get paid to do anything, what would it be?” I asked him (as I have asked innumerable students in the past)

“I don’t know. Computer stuff?”

“There are a million ‘computer stuff’ degrees…and those people make nice money, babe.”

And so off he went.  Full of doubt, but focused.

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In the five years that he was in school, he lost a job and gained a job.

He became a dad.

He lost both grandpas.

He became an uncle.

He gained four new in-laws.

He survived a wife with mood disorders.

He supported his family even when he needed to do homework…and he still got A’s.

He became a role model to many, many people, but mostly to our sons.

One thing our family values is education (in case you didn’t notice).  When we did our “priceless conversation” with our will, we talked extensively about the importance of education.  Of knowledge. Of being a life-long learner.

When I was in 6th grade, my mom decided to pursue a dream of hers and went back to school to study accounting.  She graduated from college the same spring I graded from high school.  That has had an enormous impact on me.  It has fueled my belief that you don’t say no to your dreams.  You don’t say no to a thirst for knowledge.

Cortney’s Gram (along with his Gramps) raised eight children, fostered a bazillion, and loved all those kids’ friends like her own.  She played piano and organ for the church.  She owned her own business (with Cort’s Gramps).  To say she was a busy lady is a massive understatement. Yet, she had a passion for learning and, once the kids were grown,  got her Master’s Degree just because she wanted to.  She was most definitely one of Cort’s role models when it came to making the decision to go back.

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Cort almost didn’t walk.  He was done in December and thought it would be silly to walk in May after he had been done for so long.  And for “just” an Associates.

I needed it to be his decision, but oh how I wanted him to walk.

And then his Gram told him, “You will never regret walking, but you most definitely may regret NOT walking.”

So he did.  And he wanted his Gram to be there, but she came down with shingles two days before commencement and couldn’t come.  But Cort’s mom and sister and wife were there.

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And we cheered so loud when his name was called, he admitted that from the stage, it sounded like more than three people.  SCORE!

I don’t really have the words to tell you how proud I am of Cortney.

He is now one of the role models our sons have for strong people who empowered themselves with education.  Who had a thirst that could only be quenched by books and papers and projects and class discussion.  Who wanted something and figured out how to get it.

why yes, I DID make him put this back on for a picture with the boys.

why yes, I DID make him put this back on for a picture with the boys.

We believe education is important.

And we have the degrees on the wall that prove that belief.

We are role models.

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