Yesterday, I took part in a very motivating Professional Development session at the public school where I work. It was a collaborative meeting that focused on the transition from 8th grade Language Arts to the freshman level, which I teach. I was particularly motivated and recharged during our discussion about teaching reading.
It’s true that I haven’t been reading as much as I should. Life gets busy and the state mandated tests have kept my classroom time from being as devoted to reading as it should be. I left my meeting with some really awesome and practical strategies for implementing a reading environment in the classroom and reaching the relunctant or emerging readers. A lot of our conversation was based on ideas from Donalyn Miller’s book, The Book Whisperer, which is now #1 on my summer MUST READ list. Below are some ideas I took away from our group discussions. (I am not taking credit for these ideas. Most of them were from 8th grade teachers and librarians in my district).
We began our meeting with a short reading from Donalyn Miller’s blog. The article, What the Kardashians Taught Me About Reading Instruction (No, For Real), highlights the importance of marketing reading in the classroom. Christopher Lehman, the author of the article, does a great job giving reasons for and examples of motivating readers toward a genuine love for reading. Please take a look at the link for this article, but to simplify, the points I took away from the reading let me provide you some bullet points:
- Brand yourself as a reader by making reading look as glamorous, branded, and fashionable as Kim Kardashian.
- Realize that any press is good press: Any type of book conversation is a good thing whether you are talking about a book you love or how hard you’ve found it to read lately.
- Post your reading life anywhere you can! (I personally have a few classroom ideas for letting the students know what I’m currently reading. A Kardashian pun-involved poster: Keeping Up with Mrs. Sisley)
- Treat your classroom library as a consumer machine. Promote it. Update it. Draw in the readers! (Rotate your stock often)
- Be sure your reading instruction models reality. (Worksheets don’t make us better readers!)
- “Every effort you make to live as a reader, design spaces that inspire reading, and support real reading time, will in turn make each one of your students a star.“
From that discussion we segued into ways to promote a culture of reading in our classrooms. Not only am I planning to next year be more vocal about the books I am currently reading, but I plan to model reading in class more often. Already, I set aside fifteen minutes at the beginning of class every Friday for independent reading. I also make it a point to read myself during that time (although it can be very tempting to use this time for grading and responding to emails). Next year, I would love to take it a step further and move into discussions about the books we are reading and include myself in those discussions. Additionally, some of the other teachers have set up Twitter feeds and hashtags where students can respond as a community to their independent reading books. At first, I was a little apprehensive to incorporate social media into my classroom, but I’m learning to embrace the inevitable fact that social media is not going away and teaching positive ways to engage in the online tools is becoming more and more a part of the teacher’s responsibility. I’m hoping to either set up a Twitter page over the summer or some other social media hub for communicating about books. (I should probably get a personal Twitter first 🙂 )
Another really neat idea I gathered for promoting reading in the classroom is a personal experience of mine. Recently, I posted a book review for The Orphan Train here on my blog. I sent a copy of my review to the author, Christina Baker Kline, and she responded to me! I shared this with my students and they thought it was one of the coolest things all year. I pulled up the email I received onto my Smartboard and they were blown away. Next year, I would love to implement an assignment where my students either send a review to the author of the book they just read or write some questions to the author.
Now that I’m super motivated to finish the two books I am currently reading I have decided to also create a summer MUST READ list. The following are five books I plan to read by the time I travel to England in late June. All photos and overviews are from Barnes and Noble.
#1- The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
Donalyn Miller says she has yet to meet a child she couldn’t turn into a reader. No matter how far behind Miller’s students might be when they reach her 6th grade classroom, they end up reading an average of 40 to 50 books a year. Miller’s unconventional approach dispenses with drills and worksheets that make reading a chore. Instead, she helps students navigate the world of literature and gives them time to read books they pick out themselves…
#2- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
#3- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
#4- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
#5- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
What are you Reading!?!