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.

love for the book love

I had this dream and I told the internet about it.

It exploded.

I don’t even know how to put my feelings into words this time.

The books piled up before our eyes. I would carry in bags every day for about a week and half, and my students would say, “MORE?”

Yes. More.

“But they don’t even know us,” they said to me.

I know.

“Do they even know you?”

Many do. Some don’t.


Because reading is important.  Because YOU reading is important.

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My classroom library went from 104 books to over 400 books in less than a month. All I did was make a wish list. All I did was say, “hey, I want to put books in my students’ hands.”

And they started coming in.

I also applied to the Book Love Foundation for their yearly Classroom Library Grant. Each year they gift class libraries to ten chosen applicants. Part of the application was to have letters of recommendation. Two of my students stepped up to write for me.  The words they said about me made me cry.

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Everything Ms. Sluiter does she does to help better her students’ education.

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Mrs. Sluiter puts everything she has into her job, and I would love to see her get something that she would be absolutely grateful to receive.

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Cortney said to me this past week, “did you ever imagine your little blog would bring such opportunities and good?”

No. Not in my wildest dreams. I signed up for a Blogger blog on July 7 of 2007 with the intent to post pictures and some updates for my family and friends. Never did I dream that someday Sluiter Nation would truly reach nations. Would provide for my students. Would connect me with some of the best friends I have ever had.

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I have a stack of all the notes that came with all the books. They are in a box in my classroom so I can share them with the students. I will be posting them around the library once I have shelves in place.

I wish I could send thank you notes to everyone who contributed so far, but Amazon doesn’t give me your return address. So I hope this humble blog post will do.

Thank you…

Brian and Adrienne J
Alexandra B
Rachelle F
John H
Lori B
Jennifer W
Julia L-R
Gigi R
Amber W
Joanne M
Kelsey P
Emily E
Brittany V
Wendy M
Kathleen B
Jill D
Leslie K
Gretchen V
Rachel M
Sarah T
Tonya W
Arneyba H
Amanda B
Mary B
Erin M
Jennie G
Elaine A
Debi G
Greta F
Roxane B
Tracy M
Anonymous People
And to anyone I missed because my mind has been all over the place this past month.

I promise to keep you all updated on the building of the library shelves and introducing the library to my new students next year.

I promise to keep this library sparkly and clean and organized.

I promise to put these books in the hands of teenagers.

I promise to always remember where they came from.

Thank you.

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If you would still like to donate via my Wish List, I am currently most in need of “boy” books. You can also send gently used books too! Email me at for the address to ship them.

building a dream

I have a vision.

A bookish vision.

It started because this school year I have been doing loads of reading about best practice teaching strategies and practices of master teachers. Specifically, I was inspired after reading Collaboration & Comprehension: Inquiry Circles in Action and after attending a training about reading workshops by Penny Kittle based on her book Book Love

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I had already jumped on the opportunity to get some new books via the English department for my students to do student book clubs with (I wrote about the six books our department got here).  I had ideas…but  no real plan.

After a day listening to Penny Kittle talk about reading workshops, my brain was on fire scaffolding what I had learned from reading the Daniels/Harvey book.

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It’s going well. Even with it being the end of their senior year of high school, my students are reading. With the exception of only a few students, even my self-proclaimed non-readers have told me they love their books.

That is amazing.

But I want MORE for next year.

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I don’t want to go back to one “large work” per quarter next year. I don’t want to teach a novel (or play or poem or whatever) separate from writing, grammar, and vocabulary. I want it all to go together.

And I want my students to be reading a lot.

Students who don’t read suffer word poverty.   -Penny Kittle

This year was a test…if I give the kids choice and ownership, will they actually read?  Will they do the work?  The answer so far is a giant YES.

I am not going to abandon my belief in teaching students the classics. In fact, I am hoping that by switching to my plan, students will read more classics…because they want to.

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Next year I want to run student book clubs once a quarter.

I also want to run reading workshops all year long. What does that mean, exactly?

Students would practice goal-setting and tracking. At the start of each quarter, students would set a goal for how many books they will read. They will keep track of pages/books read.

Students will read every day.

Students will write about their reading.

Students will talk about what they are reading with me and with other students.

Students will unpack the writing styles and rhetoric of what they are reading to study the writer’s craft (mastering writing, grammar, usage, vocabulary, and style).

Sustained reading for 12 minutes a day can help students score in the top half of the SAT. -Penny Kittle

As students read, they will build stamina and endurance for reading longer, more challenging texts.  Students who are college-bound will be encouraged to choose classics a few times a year.

I have a little problem with my big dream though…

This is my current classroom library.

This is my current classroom library.

That tiny bookshelf hold all 104 books in my classroom library.

::cue the sound of a record scratching::

Yes, I have access to novels that have been taught in the past (see all those copies of Frankenstein? Yeah, there are not that many kids who would choose that book.), but not enough to rotate through the 120+ students I have.

Yes, we have a media center. But sending kids to the media center for books takes them out of the classroom. I want them to be able to grab a book whenever they are in my class. I want zero excuses for not having a book to read.

Read over 600 pages a week to be successful in a top university. -Penny Kittle

I want a LIBRARY in my room.

I want kids to run their hands over the book spines the way I do at home when I am trying to choose a new book, the way I do when I am remembering all the stories I have already read.

I want kids to hold books regularly. Sending kids to the media center during class time wastes time. Sending them on their own time means it won’t happen. I want them to be able to spot a book from across the room–the way you spot an interesting person–and want to walk over and get to know it better.

I never want any student of mine to suffer word poverty. They suffer enough poverties as it is.

So I need help.

What I have so far in my library I have purchased myself, and it’s not much. I can find the funds to add a few books each year, but I have nowhere near what I need to punch it up into something usable for the fall.

I can’t do it alone.

If I have learned anything at all, it’s that I cannot do this teaching thing alone.

using student book clubs and reading workshops

I’ve created a class library wish list on Amazon.

I am not an affiliate, so no purchases give me anything other than books for my students. Along with donations, I am also busy working on applying for a grant to help purchase books for my classroom library too.

I want to thank all of you for your support, be it books or donations or just virtual high-fives. Your encouragement is a BIG part of why I get on fire to be the best teacher I can be each day.

Read on, friends.

And read to your kids.

** edit: If you don’t want to purchase new books but would still like to help, I would also happily accept gently used books you may have laying around!  Email me for where to ship

Six Must-Read Teen Novels

It’s been awhile since I reviewed a book, so I thought I would go all over-achiever on you all and talk about SIX books!

Why six, you ask? Well contrary to how little I have been posting about books, I have been a reading machine. I’ve read something like eleven books so far in 2014 and six of them were books that my seniors are currently reading for their Book Clubs.

All six books knocked me right out with how awesome they are, so I thought I would share in case you need an awesome read, that will be quick, yet keep you hooked throughout the whole book.

teen novels

Continue Reading…

Why Are We Reading This?

I’ll admit that even though I’m pretty good at getting my students interested in whatever it is we are reading, but even I get asked those age-old questions…

Why do we need to read this?

How will reading “fill-in-a-title-here” help me in life?

Can’t we just watch the movie?

I get it. I do. If I was a 17-year-old and my teacher plunked Frankenstein on my desk, I would wonder what the heck this old book has to do with my life and my future too.

My answer to students is always the same, “you won’t.  You will not need THIS novel, play, short story, etc. in your life. At least not directly. What you will need is the critical thinking I will make you do ABOUT this piece of literature.”

What is important is that kids read. Period. It really doesn’t matter what they read, as long as they are reading. Reading makes us a better society.

But try telling that to my students. Most teenagers don’t care about studies that tell us that “reading novels makes us nicer and more empathetic.” They don’t want to be nicer.

So READ…but wait. Why read the classics?

I know it’s a bit Old School for someone like me, but I have good reasons for my belief in teaching and reading the classics.


First of all, I write this as my students are currently struggling with reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Some of them hate it.

They hate it a lot.

Not because it’s a bad story, but because it challenges them to think hard while they read.

I like how Neil Gaiman put it:

it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end … that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable.

Frankenstein is a good story. It’s just hard to get through because Shelley–like all writers from her time–enjoy describing something to death.  Gothic literature from the nineteenth century England is not my students’ idea of something they can make connections to.  But they would be wrong, and that is why it’s necessary for kids to read classic works.

I teach The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, Macbeth, The Catcher in the Rye, and Of Mice and Men because they are great. As Dr. Leland Ryken puts it,  “a classic is ‘a performance in words.'” While I encourage my students to read lots of everything they want, I also want them to see what some of the best writing in the world looks like. I want them to know they can find entertainment and connections in works that have been around for centuries.

All reading encourages kids to think outside themselves about what we English nerds like to call The Human Experience, but the classics do this really well. The purpose of great art and literature is to dig at what makes human tick. Works of art and literature become classics because they are considered the best at what they set out to do.

The classics reveal the inevitability of change for human beings. My favorite book is The Great Gatsby. In what has become an increasingly annoying opinion to my colleagues who are not as much of a Fitzgerald fan as I am, I consider Gatsby to be one of the best novels to reveal the change that we both crave and avoid.

Another, less popular reason for teaching the classics, is that they are challenging. This reason is also at the top of the list when my students whine about reading too.

It’s too HARD, Mrs. Sluiter. It’s just so LONG and DIFFICULT to understand.

We can do hard things, yo. We can READ hard things too. Together.

Very rarely do I assign a million chapters and walk away from the book expecting my students to read it on their own.  That is what they should do with books they choose to read, not the ones I am teaching.  Because the key word in that last sentence is “teaching.”

As an adult, I enjoy reading the classics for sheer entertainment (and book cred, if I am honest), I know most of my students wouldn’t pick up The Grapes of Wrath for funsies.  But it’s still an important book. Reading it will stretch them and challenge them as readers and as thinkers…and hopefully as humans.

In the end, none of my students will need to have read The Great Gatsby to be successful in life. They won’t have to be able to explain the symbolism of the green light or discuss the motif of the color white. They won’t have to deliberate over the “greatness” of Jay Gatsby or whether we are all “bourne back ceaselessly into the past.”

However the thinking they will have to do to discuss socioeconomic status and the culture surround it, the treatment of others, the idea of dreams, and the mutability of humankind will force them to look inward. They will have to infer meaning, and explain those inferences. They will have to take stances and support them. They will have to make connections and choose to change or remain the same based on the connections they make.

Literature at its best changes us.

And my job here is to change lives.

March is Reading Month!

I can see it.  It’s right there…at the end of this week…


March is one of my favorite months because it’s a very celebratory month: Charlie’s birthday, my birthday, my sister-in-law’s birthday, lent, the end of the the third quarter at school, the first day of spring…lots of great stuff.

The other great thing about March is that it is Reading Month.

Reading Month with Hudsonville

I will admit that Eddie and I eat up every reading program we can get our hands on. In the summer we visit our local library and pick up a reading challenge–along with ten books each visit.

This March, I am going to be doing book clubs with my seniors to help encourage reading.  Since the new titles have started showing up in my classroom, they have already started showing their excitement. I have to admit I am excited too! The titles I have chosen (with the help of our media center specialist) are: The Fault in Our StarsThe Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Mudbound, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

I figure Eddie’s preschool will do something for Reading Month, but I also want to reinforce it at home, so I was super excited to find that Hudsonville Ice Cream is launching a reading program next month.

This past summer Hudsonville Ice Cream generously donated ice cream and other provisions for our neighborhood to have an ice cream social. They have been a long-time favorite of mine–and pretty much anyone local.

Their reading program rules and calendar can be found here. The rules are pretty simple: read every day!

Of course there are prizes involved too:

2 winners: Hudsonville Ice Cream for a YEAR!
2 winners: Hudsonville Ice Cream for your Class
5 winners: Hudsonville Ice Cream for your family
2 winners: March is Reading Month book basket

Anyone can enter, but prizes can only be redeemed in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois (where Hudsonville Ice Cream is carried), but that shouldn’t stop you from entering because READING!  And ICE CREAM!

Each week I will share what the Sluiters have been reading too…so join us!  READ!


Follow Hudsonville Ice Cream on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram


Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way for this post. I just love reading, promoting reading, and ice cream…specifically Hudsonville Ice Cream.


our time

I didn’t take many lone pictures of Eddie while we were at the cottage last week. That wasn’t on purpose, but as I click through the hundreds of shots Cortney and I got of those five days, most are of groups of people doing group things.

There is a pretty legit reason for this: during our waking hours, we were all always together. We were with each other.

Eddie and Charlie always had someone to play with…even if it was each other while the rest of us sat and chatted.

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The days were a relaxed busy…if there is such a thing.

We kept the boys going going going.

But at night…when it was quiet in the cottage, and his little brother had gone to bed, and his aunts and uncles and cousins had gone to play cards…Eddie and I readied him for bed.

The first night he said to me, “mom, I’m scared.”

When I asked why he said, “Because it’s new and that is a little bit scary. Will you lay by me?”

I told him I would be sleeping in that little bed with him all night since daddy would be sleeping in the front room with Bird.

“Can you just stay in bed now? Don’t go read your book?”

The first night I tried to tell him I would just be outside his door. He could lay with his head where his feet should be and stare at me if he wanted to.

He did.

The second night we both sat up reading until bed time.

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He simply would not go to sleep unless I was in the bed with him. So Ok, I went to bed by 10pm every night.

I’m so glad for this.

We would talk about all the fish on the walls (there was a wall paper boarder of fish around the room) and how they  made a pattern.

Each night he asked me to read the same three books, the last one always had to be Love You Forever. He would recite the song with me:

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.

Each night he asked me if I would keep him safe.

Each night he rolled into me and put his arm out to make sure I was there as he fell asleep.

He has always needed someone to be there as he drifted to sleep, but knowing I wasn’t leaving made it different. I wasn’t getting up to go to my own bed after he fell asleep. We would chat some nights until I finally would say, “Ok bud. We need to get some sleep. I love you.”

And of he would say, “I love you more than the wide world, mommy.”

No matter how uncomfortable that dang bed was, or how much Eddie tossed and turned, I sort of loved those four nights.

I didn’t get good sleep and as a result found myself heading down a dark road, but in those moments of falling to sleep, all was Ok.

He would start to cry in the night…scared and not knowing where he was. He would start to call for his Daddy because that is what he does at home.

But I would immediately wake up, turn to him and rub his cheek and tell him I was there. And he would immediately settle back into sleep.

Each morning I would sense his waking at least 30 minutes before he opened his eyes. He would start to toss and turn and move his arms and legs. I did my best to sleep through it, but just as the tossing stopped and my mind slipped back to sleep, I would feel his blue eyes.


When I opened my eyes he would smile, “Hi, mommy. I want to get up now.”

And up he got, turning on the light, finding his clothes, getting dressed, and heading out to sit by grandpa and grandma.

The day had started and it was time to share my little buddy with everyone else.

As much as I really didn’t like the sleeping arrangements or the quality of the bed, I ended up by being surprised by how much joy that alone time with Eddie brought me.

I realized how much I missed his tiny self, but how proud I am of his big boy self.

I also realized how important it is that Eddie and I have time just the two of us.

A little our time.