Tag Archives: Reading

Celebrating Reading: Scholastic Reading Summit 2018

Scholastic Reading Summit Giveaways

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending one of the five Scholastic Reading Summits happening around the country this July. The day was a celebration of reading and readers with teachers, administrators, and librarians committed to choice, advocacy, and matching students with powerful books that “nurture our souls, address our questions, learn about the world, transform our lives, and for pure enjoyment” (S. Harvey, 2018). Whereas schools are driven by test scores and prefabricated curriculum to help raise test scores, this summit was on the complete opposite spectrum. The theme and tone of the entire day was to teach readers (note that I did not say “teach reading”), and share book joy with ALL by giving students choice, access to great books, and time to read during the school day.

Consider the following:

“Reading build a cognitive processing infrastructure that then “massively influences” every aspect of our thinking, particularly our crystalized intelligence – a person’s depth and breadth of general knowledge, vocabulary, and the ability to reason using words and numbers” (Stanovich, 2003).

“Omnivorous reading and childhood and adolescence correlates positively with ultimate adult success” (Simonton, 1988). 

“Multiple studies have shown that avid readers demonstrate both superior literacy development and wide-ranging knowledge across a variety of subjects” (Allington, 2012; Hiebert & Reutzel, 2010; Sullivan & Brown, 2013).

The Scholastic Reading Summit was about encouraging lifelong readers and to give educators the tools that will foster their ability to support students as readers, to choose appropriate literature, and foster a love of reading; which in turn improves reading achievement.

The day began with the Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller @donalynbooks and book enthusiast/librarian, John Schumacher @MrSchuReads having an Oprah moment, sharing new and soon to be released books with the crowd then giving them away to attendees.

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Co-author of the book From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers (Scholastic, 2018), Annie Ward, spoke about personalized instruction that enable striving readers to do what they need above all – to find books they love and engage in voluminous reading. Creating thriving readers means carefully carving out silent reading time that is supported with purposeful conferring. It means allowing children to choose what they read and saving intensive interventions for the 5% or so that truly need it. Most kids just need time to read what they love and find compelling. Ward showed pictures from her own school district and shared the transformation that occurred when the school mission was revised to create a robust independent reading life for ALL students.

There were two breakout sessions and smaller workshops — it was too hard to choose where to go or who to see. My first workshop was with Dr. Teri Lesesne @ProfessorNana on Examining Audience, Access, and Response: Middle Grade Does Not Equal Middle School. How do we build kids as readers – well, that was the buzz throughout the day. Lesesne addressed theories of adolescent development from Piaget, Maslow, and Kohlberg and then spoke about books as tools for understanding the development and needs of tweens and teens. Thinking about what could someone do to make you WANT to read before/after reading and what could someone do to make you HATE to read before/after you read, the following acronym was used to help match tweens and teens with the right books.

T – Trust
A – Access
R – Response
G – Guidance
E – Engagement (Joy)

T – Tellling the Difference

Lots of middle school and middle grade book titles were shared throughout the discussion to help students move across texts. My Amazon cart is overflowing with graphic novels and new YA literature to bring back to my classroom library. Note four new titles I picked up in the photo above.

Other breakout workshops included Creating an Independent Reading Canon for Black Boys presented by Dr. Kim Parker, Choice Leads to Advocacy led by Stacey Riedmiller, and Booktalk like a Wizard, Slay Reading Logs, and Champion Literacy presented by Dr. Brad Gustafson. Want to know what the best elements of a 30 Second Book Talk? Check out Brad and Jennifer LaGarde’s video:

The last session was presented by authors and illustrators Andrea and Brian Pickney. This dynamic duo talked about their writing process and then read aloud from some of their powerful picture books that are docu-poems and fiction unpacking difficult topics for young readers. Here is a video of both Andrea and Brian talking about the research, writing, and illustrators from their picture book Sit In about the Sit In Movement in the 1960s in Greensboro, NC.

Resources from the Scholastic Reading Summit are available on their website.

Now if you will excuse me, I have a stack of books that I have to get to, as summer time is a perfect time to catch up on reading!

 

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An Action Plan for Building a Culture of Readers

I teach college courses on literacy and the one course that all preservice teachers are required to take is Literacy in the Content Areas. You can be working on a Masters in Teaching Physical Education, Art, TESOL, maybe science or math and you are required to take this course. For many of these teachers, the idea of teaching literacy is not at the forefront of their thinking about teaching. In fact, many question if I am asking them to teaching reading in their classes. My answer is always, YES!

Reading is an essential skill necessary across ALL content areas for learning. It is the foundation of all that we do.

This past weekend I read Many Ellis’ Lead with Literacy: A Pirate Leader’s Guide to Developing a Culture of Readers (2018) and Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney’s Sparks in the Dark: Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us (2018). Both books are published by Dave Burgess Consulting, the famed PIRATE educator and presenter. Ellis’ book showcases how she went about promoting the love of reading in her elementary school by transforming the school culture and building enthusiasm among teachers, students, and parents. Crowder and Nesloney highlight student work and activities that showcase the necessity of reading and writing in all classrooms to promote student voice and critical thinking. Both books are filled with practical, actionable ideas and strategies to embed books, literacy, and the reading into your school.

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Here are a few treasures to promote a love of reading in your own school and or classroom:

  1. Be a Reading Role Model – Take ownership and accountability for embedding literacy in all facets of the school and learning environment by being a lead reader. If you expect to create a culture of readers, talk about books, let teachers and students talk about books, share your love of reading, invest time in allowing students to read in school books of their own choice, celebrate books and readers, and promote a love of reading among teachers, parents, and students.
  2. Share Your Love of Reading – When students walk into your classroom or office the environment should showcase your love of reading. Display what you are currently reading, maintain a reading log, use social media to share your reading life, build a library, and share great books.
  3. Books for All – In addition to time and choice, students have to have access to books. In Mindy’s school there are reading emergency shelves throughout the school for students to pick up a book to read at anytime, even on the way to the bathroom. In her school is a clawfoot tub that is painted in school colors and filled with books for students to dive into what books to read next. Classroom libraries should be robust for students to choose books that capture their interests, questions, and curiosities.
  4. Your Physical Environment Should Mirror Your Mission – Set up a #BookSelfie station for students to snap a picture with the book they are currently reading. Comfy chairs, carpets, and reading nooks allow students to read in a comfortable place. Organize for a service dog to come to school for students to read to on a regular occasion, and set up little free libraries outside of the school by the playground if a student wants to just sit outside and read. Create book backpacks for students to take home over the weekend and share with their families. It is your responsibility to motivate students to read and see reflections of themselves and the diversity of our world in the libraries that are established. There are so many ways to bring that love of reading into your space and school.
  5. Have Fun with Reading – Reading should not be a punishment but a pleasure. Whether that means hosting a doughnuts and pajamas story time or a reading camp out for students, create events that celebrate books and reading. Gifting students birthday books on their birthday or having students share their favorite book on the morning announcements allows students to showcase their own love and fun with books.
  6. Cultivate a Love of Reading Among Teachers and Staff – Mindy shared two activities for PD that I am going to adapt for my students. The first was a Speed Dating PD where teachers had eight questions to discuss in three minute rounds. Questions like: As an educator, what book character are you most like and why? What is one book that has impacted your life? The second activity, Strangers in the Ball Pit is another fun way for staff members to interact with both light hearted and heavy hitting questions. Gallery Walks, flip a book study, and gifting great books to your teachers shows that reading is something that you value. When every teacher is on the same page, the school mission is attainable.

Crowder and Nesloney write, “If our goal is to build our students’ capacity as readers and writers, it is imperative that we participate in the process of reading and writing as well, in everything we do, in every subject we teach . . . the poetry of math, the metaphor of science, the humanity of history, and the literature of language arts combine to create a beautiful experience, all united by literacy.” (pg. 2) It is all of our responsibility to provide our students the educational experiences that empower them. Reading and writing are so important today in all of our classrooms as facts are being altered, silenced, and negated. Students need to be able to read critically and communicate effectively in order to amplify their stories, challenge, question, and inspire the words and information around them.

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180 Days Book Review

Many moons ago I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Kelly Gallagher, the author of countless books on teaching reading and writing like Write Like Us (Stenhouse, 2011) and Readicide (Stenhouse, 2009). He is a mentor to me and all of his books are filled with teaching ideas that help build students’ reading and writing skills. Penny Kittle is another trustworthy teacher author with strategies for student success teaching. Together, these two publishing dynamos have written 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (Heinemann, 2018).

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As the school year winds down, many teachers – including myself – are reflecting and reimagining what next school year will look like: What might we do differently? What should stay the same? Where do the students need to dive more deeply in order to help build on their literacy and critical thinking skills? Gallagher and Kittle’s book effectively takes readers on a journey into their classrooms and experience the planning and execution of a school year in a way that helps match students with the right books while at the same time, “creating a classroom conducive to raising engaged readers writers, listeners, speakers, and thinkers” (pg. xvii). Throughout the book they expose the process that goes into planning and doing, as well as what they wish they got to but ran out of time.

Teaching in different schools across the country provides parallels as well as distentions that arose throughout the year based on the personal needs of their particular students and school community. The focus was always on their students with the intention of “crafting engaging and relevant learning experiences” because instruction should be designed around people – not the standards or state requirements. Additionally, Kittle and Gallagher’s objectives include “developing reading and writing habits needed for success outside of school: in college, work, and in their personal lives.” Whether students are going to attend post secondary schooling or not, If students are considering college, this infographic in the beginning of the introduction is telling.

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Gallagher and Kittle are upfront about their own teaching values and how these values shape their planning and teaching:

Each academic year is a unique, living mosaic. Curriculum is rewritten yearly based on the changing students and changing world. As they state, “we teach students, not curriculum.”

There is beauty in our content. Reading and writing is essential and the authors state, “we personalize reading and writing, seeking the deep connections that happen when you trust students to choose what they read and write and then teaching into their developing understanding.”

Models. The teacher is a model and as models we must be active readers and writers, modeling for our students the same expectations we have for them.

Choice drives engagement. “Students should have choice in what they read 75% of the time.” And writing is not different. Students should have choices what to write throughout the school year.

Reading Identity Matters. Time for reading is dedicated in every class so that “students can increase the volume of their reading, the complexity of their reading, and students will develop allegiances to authors and genres.”

Writing Identity Matters. “Writing is for life, not just for school.” – I love this quote because it centers around our students thinking and lives. Teachers need to honor students as writers in order to discover and seek answers to bigger questions (than those posed in a 5 paragraph essay).

Talk deepens thinking and learning. Verbal, as well as written communication is essential for learning. Listening and speaking are just as important as reading and writing. This includes small group, large class, conferences with peers as well as the teacher. Talk allows students to connect with one another and articulate thinking and understanding.

Be fearless. If we expect students to take risks, we must also take risks as teachers and writers. By taking risks, we are talking about willingness to try things that are new and challenging,

Grade Less and Assess More. Not everything that students complete needs to be graded. Assessment is on-going and should drive feedback and coaching – not one and done.

Collaboration is Essential for Professional Growth. Teaching shouldn’t be an island and when we work with others, we grow professionally in order to teach and respond to students effectively.

The book maps out the year with the different units of study that both Kittle and Gallagher teach. The tone of their classroom is set the first day and students are reading and writing daily. Each day also begins with a book talk to help generate interest in reading and help students make plans for reading. Prompts for conferences and mini lessons are throughout the book with additional considerations to help teachers map out their own year of reading and writing. Both have a balance of free choice/independent reading along with two core texts and three book clubs units. Students maintain Thought Logs or Writing Notebooks. Writing is a balance between tasks, assignments, and free writing. There are ten writing units that include traditional writing assignments/essays to digital storytelling and portfolios. Students read a variety of texts from To Kill a Mockingbird to infographics, and Ted Talks.

This book is filled with engaging teaching ideas and lessons, thoughtful reflections and considerations necessary to personalize learning ALL students. Together, our mission is to help students succeed as readers and writers inside and outside of school. Gallagher and Kittle show their readers a balanced a approach.

 

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Are the Common Core Standards Dead? Advanced Literacy & Lifelong Learning

At the start of the semester, one of my graduate students told me, “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declares the Common Core is dead, so why do I need to to include the standards in all of my lesson planning?”

Well, I didn’t expect that question the first day.

And I wanted to be positive and not political.

So, here is how I did respond.

Forty-two states have adopted the Common Core Standards to define literacy and academic success. The Common Core does not tell teachers how to teach or what to teach. Rather the standards were created to be learning targets to prepare students for life long learning. New York State, the state which we live in and teach in, the state which this pre-service teacher is obtaining certification, follow the Common Core Standards and since its adoption in 2011 have revised, added, deleted, and clarified the standards with the goal of developing students to “participate in academic, civic, and professional communities, where knowledge is shared and generated.”

How does one measure student success?

How do we develop literate students who are able to communication and navigate the world?

What are the most important practices that teachers can employ to support their students as literacy learners?

Now there are benefits and limitations to the standards, any standards. I choose to see them as a guide to help support our students as life long readers and writers. Do not allow standardized tests to define what the Common Core is and is not. “The New York Education Department remains committed to encouraging teachers and schools to choose the literature and informational texts they use as they detail their ELA curriculum or programs.” What are the lifelong practices of reading and writing that you hope to offer in your classroom? How do the CCSS support these practices and develop a love of reading, help develop strong and effective writers, and build effective speaking and communication skills? Tell me what you uncover.

After this discussion with the graduate student I attended a workshop on the revised New York State Next Generation English Language Arts Learning Standards and the integration of Advanced Literacy.

“Advanced literacies denote a set of skills and competencies that enable communication, spoken and written, in increasingly diverse ways and with increasingly diverse audiences. This requires writing with precision, reading with understanding, and speaking in ways that communicate thinking clearly. Advanced literacies also promote the understanding and use of texts for a variety of purposes” (2017).

So, before we “throw out the baby with the bathwater,” let’s examine what is working with Common Core, 21st Century realities, and guiding principles, continue to revise where there are limitations and gaps in order to support each student in this changing educational landscape.

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Building Quests for Independent Learning: Classcraft’s New Feature

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I am so excited for Classcraft’s new feature that allows teachers to build quests for their students. Classcraft states, “Quests enable teachers to turn their lesson plans into personalized, self-paced learning adventures for students to embark upon in the game. Your entire curriculum can take the form of an interactive map — each point representing an activity or resource that must be completed to go further.”

I have just put together a reading quest based on a social justice book unit. Students have a choice to read I am Malala, All American Boys, or Warriors Don’t Cry. Since students are reading books in small groups, the quest feature allows all students to work at their own pace to complete different “checks for understanding” assignments that will highlight their thinking about the text.

Here is a breakdown of the Social Justice Quest:

The Story – Throughout history there have been moments when people have been called upon to stand up for what is right. They have witnessed injustice, hatred, intolerance, and have decided that they cannot stand aside as a bystander. Who are these upstanders and how do they change the course of history for all of humanity.
Mission 1 – Perception Reading Expedition

You have read the backstory, been introduced to the characters, and seen injustice presented in the text. Now, complete this mission to unlock the journey of a true hero.

Answer the questions on the google form related to your social justice book.

Warriors Don’t Cry https://goo.gl/forms/X5HoTnSFU29nl2S92

I Am Malala https://goo.gl/forms/Pc6S1uFiAs9zmo1Z2

These Google forms include 20 basic comprehension questions based on the first 100 pages of the books. Student responses will be assessed using the Google Add-On Flubaroo

Mission 2 – Alliances

We often look to models and mentors for wisdom. These people’s lives are a testament that being an upstander takes strength and perseverance.

What aspects of Mahatma Gandhi are a model and mentor for your main character?

Articulate how your main character best exemplifies the philosophies and practices of Gandhi.

To learn more about Gandhi’s beliefs and complete this task click here.

Again, students will write a short response for this task on Google Forms which will be evaluated by the teacher. 
Mission 3 – Evaluator Mission

When we get to the end of a story our mind is filled with questions, thoughts, connections, and reflections.

  • What surprised me? What did I wonder?
  • What did the author think I already know?
  • What changed, challenged, or confirmed my thinking?

Before you make it to the end of the Social Justice Vision Quest, you must complete the Evaluator One Pager Mission.

One Pager Task: Your task is to showcase your understanding of your social justice book in ONE PAGE. Please follow the guidelines and check off each box as you complete each step.

  • Use a sheet of blank, white computer paper(8 ½ X 11).
  • Make sure the title of the novel is located on your one-pager. The title should STAND OUT.
  • Include a graphic representation on the part of the book you are focusing on (drawing, magazine picture, computer graphic, a symbol)
  • Your one-pager must include color (markers, colored pencils). No pencil is allowed.
  • Answer three (3) questions (see below) regarding the book and include two or more textual quotes to support your response.
  • Personal Response: A comment, an interpretation, a connection, or a review. Please do not include a summary.
  • Fill up the entire page
  • Place your name in the lower right hand corner.
One-Pager Scoring Rubric Points
Answers three reflection questions with  specific textual quotes to support response. 10
Graphic Representation that ties to the quotes. 5

+5 Awarded for Original & Unique Artwork

Thoughtful, well-written response 10
Title clearly stated… stands out 5
Presentation: Fill page, uses color, no pencil. 3
Name in lower right corner 2
Total (40 Points Maximum)

 

All American Boys – One Pager Questions

  1. Describe Rashad and Quinn. What makes them dynamic characters?
  2. What is your impression of Spoony, Rashad’s brother? Do you find him to be a good brother to Rashad? In what ways are these two brothers similar? How are they different?
  3. Quinn states, “On Friday nights, there were only two things on my mind: getting the hell out of the house and finding the party.” Why do his responsibilities at home make him feel such a need to escape? In what ways has the absence/loss of his father impacted how the family functions? Are they in any way similar to your own? If so, in what ways?
  4. For what reasons do you think Quinn begins to feel connected to Jill? How would you characterize their relationship, and how does it change over the course of the novel?
  5. Guzzo states, “People have it all backward. They do . . . I’m sorry, but my brother did the right thing. He has to make tough calls.” When his brother attacks Rashad, Guzzo is around the corner from the store, so he doesn’t bear witness to the assault. Why is Guzzo unable to come to terms with the truth about his brother’s actions?
  6. Consider the variety of settings for All American Boys; name the three places you believe to be most important to the story.
  7. Jill tells Quinn, “I don’t think most people think they’re racist. But every time something like this happens, you could, like you said, say, ‘not my problem.’ You could say, ‘it’s a one-time thing.’ Every time it happened.” Do you agree with her assessment?
  8. Quinn states, “And if I don’t do something. If I just stay silent, it’s just like saying it’s not my problem.” How does this moment show that Quinn is actively choosing not to be a bystander? Though difficult, do you agree it’s the right decision?
  9. How does the discovery of the spray-painted tag, “Rashad Is Absent Again Today” change the dynamics about how students at the high school are able to deal with the event? In what ways does this initially non-spoken symbol become an avenue for reflection and conversation among both the student body and the faculty?
  10. All American Boys is told in a dual first-person narrative. How would the story be different if someone besides Rashad and Quinn were telling it? Do you think changing the point of view would make the story better or worse? If you could, would you want another character’s perspective to be included in the novel? If so, whose?

 

Warriors Don’t Cry – One Pager Questions

1. What are 2-3 ways different white students respond to integration at Central High?

2. What role does peer pressure play in how white students respond to African American students?

3. Melba says she feels both proud and sad when she is escorted into school by federal troops. What do these feelings say about who she thinks she is – as a citizen and as an individual?

4 What role does Grandma India play? Why is she an important to Melba? Provide at least three (3) well substantiated reasons to support your assertion.

5. Explore the role Link plays. Why is he important in the book? Provide at least three (3) well substantiated reasons to support your assertion.

6. Why is the book called Warriors Don’t Cry? Which character or characters is/are the “warriors” in this play? Explain providing at least three examples.

7. How does Melba change as the story progresses? Be sure to clearly state your thesis and explain fully the instances where her behavior or attitudes change.

8. Based upon your reading of this book, what role do you think religion played in the Civil Rights Movement?

9. In the context of Melba’s story, what does it mean to be a warrior? What qualities does a warrior in this story need to possess? Provide at least two direct quotes from the book to help explain your answer.

10. Melba’s experience at Central High School happened more than fifty years ago. Why is it important to discuss it now? What could happen if Americans don’t learn about the struggle of the Little Rock Nine?

 

I Am Malala – One Pager Questions

1. Would you have had the bravery that Malala exhibited and continues to exhibit?

2. Talk about the role of Malala’s parents, especially her father, Ziauddin. If you were her parents, would you have encouraged her to write and speak out?

3. How does Malala describe the impact growing Taliban presence in her region? Talk about the rules they imposed on the citizens in the Swat valley. What was life like?

4. Mala has said that despite the Taliban’s restrictions against girls/women, she remains a proud believer. Would you—could you—maintain your faith given those same restrictions?

5. Talk about the reaction of the international community after Malala’s shooting. Has the outrage made a difference…has it had any effect?

6. What can be done about female education in the Middle East and places like Pakistan? What are the prospects? Can one girl, despite her worldwide fame, make a difference? Why does the Taliban want to prevent girls from acquiring an education—how do they see the female role? *

7. Talk about the Taliban’s power in the Muslim world. Why do you think  it continues to grow and attract followers…or is it gaining new followers? What attraction does it have for Muslim men? Can it ever be defeated?

8. Malala witnesses her immediate surroundings change dramatically within a short time period. Describe the changes to both Pakistan and Swat throughout I AM MALALA. How does Malala experience and respond to these changes? How is Malala’s character influenced and shaped by her surroundings?

9. Discuss Malala’s relationship with her mother. What influence does she have on Malala? In what ways does Malala’s relationship with her mother compare/contrast with her relationship with her father? Did it surprise you to learn that Malala’s mother did not know how to read yet her father insisted that Malala be well educated and learn all that she can?

10. In Chapter 5, after Malala does not win the class trophy at the end of the school year, her father tells her “It’s a good thing to come in second because you learn that if you can win, you can lose. And you should learn to be a good loser not just a good winner.” What do you think about this advice? How do you think it builds Malala’s character?

11. Would you have been as brave as Malala at this point in the story? In what ways do you feel like you relate to Malala?

 

Mission Complete – Reading Ace

Social justice means moving towards a society where all hungry are fed, all sick are cared for, the environment is treasured, and we treat each other with love and compassion. Not an easy goal, for sure, but certainly one worth giving our lives for!

Medea Benjamin, co-founder Global Exchange and Code Pink

We know that within our world and throughout history that not everyone has had equal opportunities or access to resources that should be a given right. Books have the power to help us see the world for what it can be and stand up for what is right. You are a reading ace and now you must make choices that show what you have taken to heart from the stories you read.

 

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Empathy & Compassion: YA Titles to Build Bridges

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there are 917 Hate Groups in the United States. That means there are close to one thousand hate groups in the United States. Today in 2017.

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Photo from splcenter.org

The events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this past week are disturbing and upsetting.  At the same time, as a teacher, I look to current events to guide my teaching in middle school.  As a teacher and a human being I promote empathy, compassion, and understanding among ALL people both in and outside of my classroom.

For summer reading I requested students choose any book they wanted to read that had a theme of social justice. Social justice and Reconstruction are where we begin in September. Students will participate in many conversations about social justice and injustice based on events that took place this summer as well as in the books they read while on break. We will continue to address social justice throughout our reading and writing units over the course of the school year because teaching students to be critical thinkers and compassionate people is just as much as a learning target and goal as any Common Core Learning Standard.

In response to Frank Bruni’s op-ed piece in the New York TimesI Am a White Man. Hear Me Out” (8/13/2017), Colette M Bennett’s blog Used Books in Class writes,

Reading provides the reader the experience of seeing through another’s eyes. That is the definition of empathy. There is research that supports the link between the reading of stories and empathy.  Therefore, my response as an educator to Bruni is that the bridges he seeks can be bridges that are built by reading stories.

Reading is at the center of my middle school English classroom and reading and sharing books is key. In response to building bridges, conducting conversations about current events, and promoting tolerance, here are four YA titles worth reading.

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Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) takes place in Mississippi in 1955 in a town next to where Emmitt Till was murdered. The protagonist, 13 year old Rose Lee Carter, is living with her grandmother, working in the cotton fields and dreaming of a better life. The writing is powerful and gets into the heart and mind of a young African American girl struggling between what could be and the violence of what is. This book can be used parallel to primary sources about Emmitt Till, Jim Crow South, and Brown vs. Board of Ed.
Alan Gratz’s Refugee (Scholastic, 2017) tells the story of three different young people who escape their home country for a better life and for safety. One story is of Josef, a young boy living in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994 hoping to safely make it to America and Mahmoud is a Syrian Boy in 2015 looking to escape with his family after the ongoing violence and destruction in his homeland. The three young people are connected in the end but the journey they embark on is harrowing. 9780545880831_mres

 

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer & Bray, 2017) is powerful and poignant. After reading Jason Reynold and Brendan Kiley’s All American Boys (Scholastic, 2015), I did not think there would be another book as honest, raw, and gripping for young adults about police violence and brutality. Angie Thomas exceeds my expectations. The book gets at the heart of matter and puts down on paper the difficult questions many are asking about race, violence, and humanity. f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9f41mrnaqoygl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

 

 

American War: A Novel by Omar El Akkad (Knopf, 2017) is a post apocalyptic story about a divided United States after the Second Civil War breaks out in 2074 and leaves America fractured. The protagonists is young Sarat Chestnut, a tomboy who comes of age during this frightening war torn time. There are so many parallels to what is happening in our world today that will leave the reader with disturbing thoughts about the direction we are heading.

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Good Game Reads: 8 YA Books for MetaGames & Gamers

Video games are their own literary genre driven by narrative and story. As my colleague and friend Katie Egan Cunningham states, “Stories surround us, support us, and sustain us.” Whether you are gamer in search of a good story or books to hook your gamer -students, here are 8 young adult books worth reading that tap into gaming, puzzles, ciphers, quests, and LARPs.

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It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett (Nerdist, 2016) is about two friends who get caught in a LARP (Live Action Role Play) gone wrong. Not long after the adventure begins, the friends find themselves transported from Earth to a world filled with both magic and danger. Suddenly, what Alison expected to be a weekend being geeky turns into a fight for survival against brigands, kobolds, and other nasty characters as the group tries to finish their mission or at least get back home.

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In Click Here to Start by Denis Markell (Delacorte Press, 2016) twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great-uncle dies and bequeaths him the all so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Random House, 2012) has popped up on many high school summer reading lists and my students would tell you this book does not disappoint. Set in the year 2044, where reality is an ugly place, teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s in the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines–puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win–and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Steven Spielberg is directing a film version of this book that has a release date of March 2018.

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Laura Ruby’s book new series York: Book One the Shadow Cipher (Walden Pond Press, 2017) takes readers on an exciting treasure hunt through a city’s past to save the future. The protagonists, two twin siblings and their neighbor journey around New York and into the city’s past, both real and fantastical, as they encounter a henchman, delve into the bowels of the Old York Cipherist Society (a group of either learned scholars or paranoid cranks), and try to decide whom they can trust. Along the way, there’s action and peril, including a scene involving a giant mechanical insect that eats dirt and sometimes people; but at key junctures, it’s each child’s individual talents that lead him or her to solve a particular element of the puzzle.

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Looking for more adventure and games? Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Flatiron Books, 2017) mentions the game of life and love throughout this story about a dark carnival organized by the notorious Legend. Protagonist Scarlet and her sister sneak away from their father and their home to attend and play at the Caraval. Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find her sister Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

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The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold by Traci Chee (Penguin Random House, 2016), my FAVORITE book this year, is exploding with puzzles and adventure. After Sefia’s father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible. This November the next installment is out, The Speaker: Book Two of Sea of Ink and Gold — I cannot wait!!

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Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown (First Second Books, 2016) is a graphic novel that explores the history of Tetris and unravels the complex history to dive into the role games play in art, culture, and commerce.

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Another graphic novel, Level Up (First Second Books,2016) by Gene Luen Yang presents a coming of age story of the dilemma of personal goals verses parental approval. More specifically, video games vs. medical school!

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Building Wordsmiths: 8 Activities for Teaching Vocabulary

Vocabulary is at the heart of the content areas we teach.  Each content has its own vocabulary unique to the understanding of the content material taught.  Some argue most vocabulary learning occurs independently. Most researchers would agree that you improve an individual’s vocabulary knowledge and comprehension through students immersed in a wide variety of reading and writing activities.

There is no one method for teaching vocabulary. Rather teachers need to use a variety of methods for the best results, including intentional, explicit instruction of specific vocabulary words. Teachers can also encourage creative approaches to spark enthusiasm.

Janet Allen, author of Words, Words, Words (1999), states, “Children and adults need to see and hear a word in meaningful context multiple times in order to know the word, somewhere between 10 to 15 times.” And with middle school and high school, variety is the key. Teachers cannot teach vocabulary the same way every time.

Reading is perhaps the most important element in vocabulary instruction.

So, how do I teach vocabulary in my English class?

Vocabulary is intertwined with reading and understanding a text. As a middle school English Language Arts teacher, I want to devise a way of teaching vocabulary in a way that does not interfere with students’ enjoyment and interest of a text. 

Here are 8 vocabulary activities to build wordsmiths in my classroom. The ultimate goals of all vocabulary development is for students to become independent word learners.

  1. Prefix Pursuit – All seventh graders in my school learn “SPROOTS”- Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots. Every day the bell ringer or do now requires students learn 3 new Sproots to help students understand the structure of words and give them the tools to deconstruct complex vocabulary words. Create a prefix pursuit and have students collect the definition of the prefix from their classmates. For example, find someone who knows the meaning of “dis.” find a person who can use a “uni” word in a sentence, find someone who know the antonym of “anti,” and find someone who knows two words that begin with “cent.”
  2. Vocabulary Pre-Assessment – How well do I know these words? Post words on the SMARTBoard and have students put them in one of the columns that best describe what students know about each one. Columns can read, “Don’t know at all.” “Have seen or heard but I don’t know the meaning.” “I think I know the meaning.” and “I know the meaning.”
  3. Vocabulary Word Maps & Frayer Models – Graphic organizers are great tools to help students build a word bank of Tier 2 and Tier 3 words in the content area. Graphic organizers can require students to define the word, offer synonyms and antonyms, use the vocabulary word in a sentence, and draw a picture to help visualize the word.
  4. Alphaboxes – The Alphaboxes strategy (Hoyt) help students reflect on what they have read while engaging in vocabulary expansion. Given a grid with all 26 letters of the alphabet, students work together to find words for each box that relate to the reading selection. This activity generates discussion, questioning, and collaboration.
  5. MadLibs – This is a perfect strategy for math, science, and social studies content areas. Students are given a text passage with missing words to fill in, students apply content area vocabulary words to help the passage make sense. Include a  word bank to help students complete an accurate text.
  6. Vocabulary SudoKu – Create a grid so that every row, every column and every 3X3 box contains 9 different vocabulary words. Stack the sudoku boxes for more complexity.
  7. Magic Squares – Create a 3X3 grid for 9 vocabulary words and then write out a definition or explanation for each of the vocabulary words below. Students select from the numbered terms the best answer for each of the terms. If the students got the vocabulary words correct the total sum of the numbers will be the same across each row (horizontally) and down each column (vertically).
  8. Anticipating Content Through Vocabulary – This strategy helps to front load vocabulary in a reading or chapter. Give students a word bank of terms. Based on the words, have students make a prediction how the word will be used in the text. Then, have students write ten sentences that support that prediction. The sentences become a guide for their reading. When students are finished reading the text, students can go back to their prediction sentences and modify them so they are accurate in terms of the content of the reading passage.
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Notable YA Books of 2016

It’s that time of year again when people begin reflecting and recounting the best, the top, or the most of one thing or another. So many great books were at the forefront of 2016 but these are the books that have left a lasting impression on me. Stories that I shared with my graduate students and read with my middle school students. I wanted to share the best young adult books that I have read this past year as I look forward to many interesting titles being published in the year ahead.

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The Reader is set in Kelanna,  a place where written words do not exist and there is no written language, except for the few protectors of “the book.” Some believe that the book has magic and can “turn salt into gold.” Sefia is a orphan after her father is murdered and her aunt is kidnapped. Sefia seeks to find her aunt and understand more about the mysterious book that was her father’s. With the help of a stranger, Sefia goes on an adventure to seek revenge,  find her aunt, and learn more about the powers of the book.

I cannot rave enough about this book. The play on words and double meanings of this adventure tale evolves into a story about the power of literacy and learning to read. Traci Chee has hidden a series of secret puzzles and mysteries to solve. This is a book that once you get to the end, you want to go back to the beginning and start reading again.

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Another debut author, this book is a story of friendship and love. It is also about not letting your parents define you or who you can become.  This story is about three teenage outcasts who lean on each other in good and bad times. There is love, death, secrets are revealed, and although there is no happy ending, Dill and Lydia learn to move on from their pain. This is a great book for someone who has exhausted John Green and Rainbow Rowell’s novels.

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THIS IS NOT A YOUNG ADULT BOOK, but I am going to include it anyway because it was fascinating. Most high school students are reading Holocaust historical fiction and I would consider using parts of this book for a select group of high school students studying the Holocaust. Pearl and Stasha are twin sisters brought to Aushwitz with their mother and grandparents during WWII. Due to the fact that these sisters are identical twins they are taken by Dr. Mengele, a physician who was known to experiment upon concentration camp prisoners. Stasha and Pearl are tortured by Mengele and meet other children who are part of his zoo. Told in the sister’s alternating voices there are elements of strength, hope, resistance, and deep pain.

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I can tell you exactly where I was on 9.11: riding a train into New York City for work that stopped short of the city to let out passengers due to the circumstances after the first plane hit. My brother had just started his first year of college at George Washington University, two and half miles from the Pentagon and was walking to class. My sister was flying in from California on the red eye. Game Polisner, author of Summer of Letting Go, writes another heart wrenching tale about two teens and an unlikely friendship. Kyle was in school when the planes hit the towers and walks home across the Brooklyn Bridge where he finds a young girl covered in ash. Kyle brings her home to help her and the two watch the tragedy of the day unfold.

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So many young adult books tell the story of young people who feel alone, are considered outcasts, or ostracized by their families. In David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite, five individuals find each other and help each other each with their own personal struggles. Vic’s father died after battling cancer and now his mother has a boyfriend who is moving in with his family. Vic finds list of places where his father wanted his ashes spread and the Kids of Appetite help him on his quest to fulfill his father’s last wishes. This quest helps him to make friends, fall in love, honor the kindness of strangers, and open up to the possibility of living a full life without his father.

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Fans of The One and Only Ivan, will fall in love with Pax. Told in alternating voices between Pax, a pet fox and Peter, Pax’s owner. Peter has raised and domesticated Pax since the fox was a small pup. Now that his father has been called to duty he makes Peter get rid of Pax by setting him out into the wild. Peter runs away in order to find Pax. This is the story of both their journeys in the wild until they find each other.

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The highly anticipated sequel to The Red Queen; my students and I were in love with Aveyard’s first novel last year and couldn’t wait for book 2 to hit print. In this fast paced dystopian novel the demise of this crooked kingdom raises more questions than answers between the silvers and the reds. King Maven is a bad character who no one can trust. There are new characters with new special powers and tension between between Mare and Cal feelings for each other is not even close to being resolved. Mark you calendars now for King’s Cage February 2017.

What books would you include? Share your titles in the comments section below.

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5 Professional Books to Strengthen Student Learning

I have spent the past two weeks binge reading professional books published this year. Reading professional books about teaching allows me to reflect on my own teaching practices and look into new ways to support the learners in my classroom. All of the books   inform my thinking about literacy in order to strengthen students’ reading and writing.

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Let’s begin by throwing out everything you know and teach about the literary essay in secondary school. The formula for teaching essays in schools is not really an “essay.” Katherine Bomer’s The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them (Heinemann, 2016) shares some of the most beautifully crafted essays throughout her book as she calls for the need to revise what we think we already know about teaching and writing essays. Each chapter of her book takes the reader through the “essaying” process from reading closely to crafting powerful essays. Bomer defines essays as “nonfiction prose, whose author unveils a central idea about the world and its occupants and invites – with bold, sometimes lyrical exposition and interesting kaleidoscope of facts, observations, memories, anecdotes, and quotes from others – readers to watch him or her think about that idea for a few pages.” (p.22) She argues the problems with standardized essays forms and supports utilizing the essay for the practice of “writing to think.” Bomer offers strategies to help get ideas down on paper and hones in on the craft moves of great essayists. The book includes powerful essays and essay excerpts from Brian Doyle, LeBron James, Roxane Gay, and dozens more.

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Fisher, Frey, and Lapp’s, Text Complexity: Stretching Readers With Texts and Tasks, 2nd Edition (Corwin & ILA, 2016) addresses the quantitative and qualitative measures of text complexity so teachers can make instructional and assessment decisions to support students as readers. The authors discuss all the characteristics of the reader and a text to consider.  For example, when considering the reader teachers cannot ignore background knowledge, fluency, cultural knowledge, and vocabulary knowledge for text selection and teaching. When choosing a text, teachers must analyze the text for levels of meaning or purpose, structure, language and knowledge demands. These considerations allow teachers to “plan appropriate instruction and strategically guide the development of their learners.” (p. 67) The book contains a number of checklists and tables that highlight the strategies and skills needed to build students’ knowledge. Fisher, Fray and Lapp describe teacher led tasks like Think Alouds, Close Reading, Scaffolding, and Collaborative Conversations as examples of strategies to help students read more, read widely, and read deeply, in order to develop life long readers.

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Years ago I read a book by Robyn R. Jackson titled Never Work Harder Than Your Students (ACSD, 2009) which addressed having students do the difficult work of learning to build stamina and knowledge. Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ book Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More (Stenhouse, 2016) takes a similar vein to Jackson’s work and looks specifically at Read Alouds, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, and Independent Reading in order for teachers to push students towards leading the conversations about books and reading. By asking students, “What could you try?” puts students in the driver seat instead of scaffolding, front loading, or telling students the answers. We want students be in the driver seat rather than autopilot in our classrooms to thinking deeply and construct meaning versus teachers constructing meaning for students. Constructing meaning should be done by our students and Burkins and Yaris offer strategies and prompts that make stronger readers. Looking to maximize our students’ roles, teachers become facilitators so that students can apply what they know and think.
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Both Who’s Doing All the Work? and Text Complexity address a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). As Dweck states in an article for EdWeek, “Students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.”

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Struggle is natural and learning can be challenging, it’s how students respond to challenge, struggle, and the hard parts is what really matters.  Gravity Goldberg’s Mindsets & Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge (Corwin, 2016) is an ode to growth mindset in the classroom. Building on the works of Dweck, Angela Duckwork’s Grit and Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Goldberg describes the new role of teachers as miners, mirror, models, and mentors to encourage a “stronger appetite for learning” among our students. Teachers must first admire their students, give detailed and effective feedback, show students what we do as readers, and then guide students towards ways of reading that work for them. Goldberg offers a visual tour of effective classrooms through pictures, descriptions, charts, and lessons.

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Kate Roberts & Maggie Beattie Robert’s DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence (Heinemann, 2016) offered four teaching tools to bring into the classroom as scaffolds and supports for student learning. Teaching charts, Bookmarks, Micro Progression Charts, and Demonstration Notebooks are four visual tools that explain ideas, clarify, and illustrate skills and techniques so students can turn around and recall key ideas taught.  As a teacher who already uses charts and demonstration notebooks, the micro progression charts and bookmarks were two artifacts that I plan on bringing back to my classroom and utilizing with my students. The micro-progressions of skills chart articulates criteria for students the different levels of that skill and creates a model for each level. Below is a picture of an example of a micro progression chart.

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image from https://i.vimeocdn.com/video/565312636_295x166.jpg

We all have our favorite professional texts for teaching reading and writing. The books mentioned here offer great insight and teaching moves to support students as critical thinkers, readers, and writers.

If you have any professional books you recently read and find helpful with teaching literacy, please share in the Comments section on this blog.

 

 

 

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