Book Love, Author Love

I met some authors. It was cool. I’m exhausted.

Brendan Kiely

 

Shaka Senghor

 

Julie Murphy

 

Chris Crutcher

 

Matt de la Pena

Lynn Weingarten & Amy Reed (2nd and 3rd from left)

And so many more.

I’m tired.

One more big day.

YA for Beginners

My classroom door is always open (quite literally because it gets really warm in there in the morning) to anyone coming in to observe me. Because of this policy, I’ve had fellow teachers stop by, but I have also had college students/teachers-in-training and student teachers come through my door as well. I welcome them all because I enjoy the wonderings and questions I get from each of them. I love to see my class and my teaching through the eyes of someone else so I can stay fresh and always keep “why do that?” in my mind.

That said, one of the biggest draws to my classroom is my library. I’ve got about a thousand titles that I’ve painstakingly collected through my own purchases and many many many donations. Everyone wants to lay eyes on this glorious wall-o-books, and the question that is always asked is, “what would you suggest to get first? If I was going to start a library, what books are good ones to start with?”

This answer changes every year as new books come out and student interest changes, but I think I can make a Top Twenty Starter Pack list for anyone wanting to either start a classroom library, or start reading YA Lit for the first time.

Here is my list in no particular order (keeping in mind that I am cheating a bit and just naming authors so I can cover more than just twenty. What? I’m addicted!).

  1. Winger by Andrew Smith (and then Standoff because it’s the sequel. And then, well, let’s just put Andrew Smith books at the top of the list. But read Winger first.)
  2. Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
  3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  4. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (ok, again, just read everything he’s written, but this is his newest and it’s incredible)
  5. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
  6. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (she is another one that you should just invest in all her books)
  7. Me, Earl, & The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews (seriously inappropriately funny)
  8. Lily & Dunkin by Donna Gephart
  9. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
  10. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  11. La Linea by Ann Jaramillo
  12. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  13. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (again…just get everything she’s written)
  14. Everything Walter Dean Myers has written, but specifically get Monster- both the novel and the graphic novel
  15. Yummy by G Neri
  16. All of Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels
  17. Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
  18. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
  19. Any (or all) of the Blueford High Books–kids LOVE them because they are accessible and high interest. I suggest starting with Brothers in Arms
  20. Wonder by RJ Palacio

Oh gosh…I really could keep going. This is really just a very small start. Other authors you should really read include Ellen Hopkins, Matt de la Pena, Ibi Zoboi, Neil Shusterman, and so SO many more.

Happy reading!

March Book Shower

March is when Alice is coming (the 6th).  March is Charlie’s third birthday (the 13th).  March is my thirty-seventh birthday (the 27th).  March is also READING MONTH.

March also means my last day of teaching until fall. While it is exciting to think of being done for six months, it also stressful for me getting ready to leave my students–and my classroom library–with someone else for 12 weeks.  Will the sub love and care for my books the way I do?  Will my students continue to be responsible about checking out and returning books without stealing or losing them?

What I know for sure is that I have students who are definitely reading those books. I would say that over 75% of my classes are doing more than required one independent book per marking period, and of the remaining 25% of students, less than 10% are just not reading or doing their required work.

With only 4 days left of work for this year, I would say my biggest success has been Reading Workshop. I have many things I would like to add or adjust for next year, but as my first year trying Reader’s Workshop AND being in a new grade-level and building, I would say it’s been more successful than I could have hoped.

That said, I always, always need more books. So rather than having a baby shower, I was told I should throw a book shower!

If you want to participate in my March Book Shower to celebrate the birth of Alice, mine and Charlie’s birthdays, Reading Month and the success of my first year of Reader’s Workshop just click the imagine below and it will take you to my classroom wishlist.

library

This wishlist has been compiled by my students as they read and request books. There are over 300 titles, so if you click through, you can find something you would love to add to our library.

It would only take a gift of ONE book per blog reader and my students would be able to have the books that will keep them reading!

I would love it if you would share this post with others too! You can either click on the share buttons below, or you can use this when you share via twitter or Facebook:

Join me in throwing @ksluiter a Book Shower in honor of March being Reading month, her new baby girl, and her students’ love of reading! http://wp.me/p1qChn-2yS

It’s about to get crazy in Sluiter Nation…help us celebrate!

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.

readingquote

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?

readingworkshop

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.

readingclipboard

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.

*************

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.

*************

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.

*************

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!

Stand Up {a giveaway}

Children’s books are a HUGE part of our family life in Sluiter Nation.

Eddie has so many that I am running out of shelf room in his bedroom.  Charlie has so many board books they are taking over the nursery. And yet, I would never ever say, “oh, we have enough books.”  There is just no such thing as “enough” when it comes to books.

Recently we added one more book to our growing pile, Stand Up. But this book is extra special. This one is authored by David Stefanich, otherwise known as “Uncle Dave” in our house since he is, in fact, the kids’ uncle.

Stand Up is a book about Xavier, a student at Parker Elementary. Xavier is a victim of bullying. The book follows Xavier from Kindergarten through 3rd grade and shows the importance of bystanders and how they can make all the difference.

David works in education as an elementary school principal and he is acutely aware of the challenges kids face at this age. Not only is the plot of the book wonderful for kids of all ages, but because of his work in education, it’s also the perfect book for making predictions, making inferences, and opening up discussion between parents and children.

Eddie and Charlie have listened to “Uncle Dave’s Book” countless times in the short week we’ve had it, and every time something new comes up when we are finished.

Stand Up would make the perfect gift this holiday season, but one of you has the chance to win a copy signed by the author here!

Just follow the directions in the Rafflecopter widget below. A winner will be chosen at midnight on November 25.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. We received two copies of the book because we paid for two copies. Now I want to give one to one of you because we love it and its author.

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).

Launching the Reader’s Workshop

Last school year I had a vision: I wanted every one of my seniors to read a book.  I wanted them to have choice. I wanted a classroom library. I wanted to incorporate a reader’s workshop into my curriculum.

I started in April and with the help of you and a grant from The Book Love Foundation, I have been able to increase my library from a measly 104 books to almost 600 books with more on the way. I have an online check-out system for students that has every title in it. I have labeled every book with my name and stamped it with a “property of Sluiter Nation” stamp. I’ve sorted each book into a category so students can “shop” by interest (fantasy, sci-fi, sports, life in high school, etc) when they are looking for something to read.

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We started school with a week of procedures and figuring out where our starting point was. Students took their first SRI (Scholastic Reading Inventory) Test of the year. I had them record these scores.

We talked about goals and increasing SRI scores and reading stamina. I gave them a tour of my classroom library and its categories.  I did book talks of some of my favorite things to read that are available to them in the classroom library.

And this week, I turned my 134 eighth and ninth graders loose to check out books.

It was exhilarating.

Each hour, students crowded the back of my room searching for the book that they wouldn’t hate. Some searching for a particular author or series.

I kept track of requests for authors, titles, and subjects that I didn’t have. I started wait lists for books that were checked out early in the day, but had lots of requests.

By the end of book check out day, I had six pages of book check outs that I had to enter into my book check out program on my computer.  It was the best kind of overwhelm.

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Today (Tuesday) students calculated their reading rate: how many pages they could read per hour (by counting how many pages we could comfortably read in 10 minutes and multiplying by 6). When the 10 minutes were up, many students were complaining that they wanted to read longer because they had just gotten into their books.

My usually chatty junior high classes were silently immersed in books. Almost every student. I only had to take three kids aside out of 134 and discuss being respectful to our sacred reading time. Three.

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We have a long road ahead, but this week was the start. Kids are reading. All the books I’ve lovingly collected and organized are out there.

I really can’t wait to get a groove, learn what works and what doesn’t, and see kids discover reading. Some kids are doubtful and I can tell who will be my “project kids”; but some…oh…some.  They are on fire about this.

That is what keeps me fired up too.

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