Sunday, October 19, 2014

"I Am Now a Reader": At 18 a Reader is Born #SundaySeries #SummerReading #BookTalkaDay

Knowing today is the final week of Lee Ann Spillane's #SundaySeries on #SummerReading, I began planning this entry a couple of weeks ago after reading comments from students on the rights of readers in their writing notebooks. 

From the moment I greet my seniors, I know getting them to read will be a challenge. It's a nine month gestation that my district allots six months to develop. We're on trimesters, and the only students who take English all year are AP lang and comp and AP lit students. Indeed, many seniors only take English one trimester. 

Since September I've been thinking about how to keep students reading from late November until I see them in late February. Some of my current students will have a different teacher next trimester, so I only have three months with them. Others won't return to me until third trimester because I don't teach the last half of the class until then. 

If this all sounds messed up. It is. 

About those Rights of the Reader entries in the writing notebooks: 

I asked students to write about the right of readers they most value after we talked about David Pennac's The Rights of the Reader poster. 

Among my favorite student responses: 

"But sometimes adults try to take away some of the books we love and by doing that they take away some of our happiness as well." --Dillon

Adults as book thieves? Yes. This is what censors and those who try to ban books from classrooms and school libraries do: They steal happiness from children. 

"Sometimes I think to myself, someone out there is living this book. And it gets me thinking about things like that." --Amanda

As does Amanda, we have the right to mistake a book as real. Imaginative literature often speaks the truth in ways informational texts can only dream of doing. For Amanda, and the other seven Native American students in her class, a novel may be the only window into their own stories these students experience in a day. What better reason to let a student read than to get them thinking? 

Other students wrote about rediscovering a love of reading after losing it by being forced to read only assigned books. 

My favorite response came from Braedon. 

"The most important thing to me as a reader is that I connect with the book, that I connect with the story. In the past it has been very hard for me to read books because they were always being forced on me and I did not connect with them...To be able to choose our own books with our own interests and thoughts in mind has made me excited to read. I never thought myself a reader until Mrs. Funk showed me that I can enjoy reading. I have the right to mistake a book for real life. . . .When I read Divergent, I didn't want it to end. I wanted it to be real. It felt real. I connected with it. . . I am now a reader." --Braedon

As Lee Ann envisioned this series, teachers would reflect on summer reading with which they task students. I'm thinking about the summer reading students choose on their own. This thinking can't begin in late May or early June. A fetus needs nine months gestation before entering the world. Raising readers requires nurturing throughout the year, throughout a child's schooling. 

As I bid my students farewell in May, the graduation gift I hope to impart is that they'll see themselves as readers and that they'll see books as windows into the world. 


Yikes, I only presented three book talks this week. Wednesday we administered the PSAT to all sophomores in our school. The seniors attended a "Major and Minor Fair" at Idaho State University. We had an assembly Friday. I misread the times and chose to skip the #BookTalkaDay Thursday. That was a mistake. 

This week's book talks:

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
Why I Fight by J. Adams Oaks

*All three books are part of the generous gift Brian Beech, my former student, recently sent to my students and to me. Brian gave us 50 books!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Writing ALAN Style Mini-Reviews for Independent Reading #Sunday Series #BookTalkaDay

*This post is part of Lee Ann Spilane's blogging challenge on the Portable Teacher blog, although I have taken great liberty w/ Lee's plan to write about summer reading! 

In my utopian classroom, students would read and write about their reading without prodding by me. We'd live in a world of books and book discussions. 

I don't work in a utopia. I searched for an inspiring way for students to write critically about their reading and decided to share the ALAN Journal mini-review template as I submitted a mini-review to the ALAN Journal earlier this summer for the novel SEKRET by Lindsay Smith

Since I didn't want students to view the free reading time as leading to an assignment, but since I wanted them to think about their reading in an on-going way so that they would be prepared for the writing when they finished their books. 

Here's the procedure I followed:

1. Each day students write one-sentence essays based on their daily reading. We follow the reading and writing by sharing a couple of examples. 

2. I gave students a completion date for their first free reading selection of the year. 

3. Two weeks before the review due date, I gave students a handout explaining the assignment for writing an ALAN Book Review.

The two screenshots show the first and second halves of the handout. We spent time in class discussing the assignment. Using the document camera allowed me to show students the requirements and teach them how to annotate the handout in a way that supports their learning the task. 

Before looking at the text of the review, I walked students through the heading and showed them examples from the ALAN Review journal. I explained that since they were writing their reviews "for publication," they needed to adhere to the formula ALAN mandates.

As students reviewed the example I wrote, we discussed the importance of giving just the right details from the plot, an overview of the characters, some information about theme, and ways to use brief quotes.

Then we turned our attention to the second part, which is the criticism. I walked students through my thought processes and reminded them that reviewers express their opinions about a book, talk about the target audience, and offer insights about concerns readers might have.

4. As students prepared their reviews, I checked their progress and answered questions during lab time. Some had confusion about their reviews in terms of where to put their names. I let them put a traditional heading on their papers or add their names at the bottom of the paper, as we see in the ALAN Review.

Most students embraced my vision, although the newness of the formatting confused them somewhat. Still, I love the way students felt free to quote from their books and share the way their reading choices resonate with them. Here is an example from one of my more reserved students who read and reviewed Winger by Andrew Smith: 

As a teacher who values reading the classics and student choice, finding ways to show students their preferences matter challenges me to find new approaches to teaching literary criticism. As Kelly Gallagher reminds us: Our students typically won't grow up to be literary critics or college English professors, but they will review products on Amazon in on other online venues. It behooves us to teach them responsible ways to remember their reading from high school and to teach them to critique in responsible, thoughtful ways. 

Maybe some will one day write reviews that will be published in the ALAN Journal. What better way to to connect young adults with one another.

#BookTalkaDay: This week was homecoming, but we still had our daily book talks, some to bring awareness to October as Bully Awareness Month. 

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA novel, male narrator)
Tomboy by Liz Prince (graphic memoir)
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (nonfiction)
Countdown by Deborah Wiles (juxtaposition of historic documents and fictional narrative)
October Morning: A Song for Mathew Shepard by Leslea Newman (poetry)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Gift of Words: Thank You, Brian #SundaySeries #BookTalkaDay

"You can give words, but you can't take them. And when words are given and received, that is when they are shared. . . . The sharing of the words becomes as important as the words themselves. The sensation stays with you, attaches you to the world." 

                                                                    ---David Levithan in Two Boys Kissing

Brian Beech, a former student, recently gave my students and me a huge gift of words. Brian has graciously replaced many books in my classroom library that had disappeared. Among those books is Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan's lyrical novel about gay teens breaking the world record for the longest kiss. 

My students and I have been kissed by Levithan's and many other authors' words through Brian's generosity. And it all started with a Facebook status update during Banned Books Week. I posted a note about challenged books that have disappeared from my classroom library and lamented that while I hoped these books found homes with loving readers, I suspect many had been taken by students who think the subject matter is inappropriate for teens. 

Next, I received a message from Brian: 

The disappearing books make me smile. And feel nostalgic. Please send me a list of books I can send. Queer or other. . . What a great destiny for a book. To be stolen. Every day I walk by books in huddled masses on the curb that would be so jealous. . . I''ll include a couple of books that changed my life, or at least touched it. You can add them to your disappearing library.

Brian put Two Boys Kissing at the top of his list, and I sent him six titles I had on my wish list of books. 

Then Brian sent a follow-up note: 

New York has so many amazing book stores with gently used and reasonably priced books. Are gently read books a problem? That list was only 6 books. Can you send me 6 more titles. Then another 6. I'm going hunting tomorrow and I want a big target.

With the original list of six titles, I had tried not to be greedy, but Brian's request for "a big target" tempted me too much. I sent a follow-up list of almost 50 titles that had disappeared from my classroom. 

To date, Brian has sent 25 brand new books. I have also received a copy of Fangirl by Rainbow Row that must have been read once. It looks spanking new. 

Some of the books Brian has gifted my students and me.
After his day of book shopping, Brian updated me on his adventure. I'm sharing his note because I'm hoping to promote the organization he's supporting: 

I started my day at The Housing Works bookstore. Housing Works is an amazing organization that supports a variety of queer causes. Vital causes that don't get much attention. They provide housing and medical care to gay men living with HIV, support the Gay Men's Health Crisis which provides free medical care, STD testing in mobile units throughout the city, condoms, Sex Ed, etc. They also have great programs for at risk LGBT youth. Mentoring, safe havens throughout the city, counseling, literacy programs. The list goes on and on. All this is supported by their 20 thrift stores in Manhattan and the bookstore. And of course private donors. 

The books Brian has provided my students comprise only part of the gift of words. The notes and reflections on his time in my class have touched me deeply. We teachers set our students free when a class ends or a student transfers, as Brian did during his junior year. My heart broke when he left, but I understood why he chose to transfer to a high school across town where he could study among fewer bullies. During Brian's high school years, my school was far less tolerant than it is now. We haven't arrived where we need to be, but we're better now than we were and will get even better. Brian's gift of words will help in our progression. 

I had hoped to get each book tagged with a note thanking Brian before checking them out, but who can say "not yet" to students eager to open a gift, eager to read a book? I have a list and will add the labels later as the books return and await regifting to the next reader. For now, I tell each student who checks out one of the books Brian sent a little about the donor. 

We are giving, and receiving, and sharing words. We are bound to one another through these words whether in books or through memories. Thank you, Brian. I <3 You. Always have. Always will. 


We had a short week this week, so I have only four rather than five book talks to share: 

I am Nuchu by Brenda Stanley (a local author)
Into Thin Air by John Krakaur
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Reality Boy by A.S. King

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reading: My Old Crush, so Why Am I so Fickle? #SundaySeries #SummerReading #BookTalkaDay

This post is part of the #SundaySeries blogging challenge on Lee Ann Spillane's blog, Portable Teacher.

I love reading and read every day, but I am in a reading slump and have been for quite some time. As do many teachers, I look forward to summer when I can read to my heart's content. That didn't happen this summer. Yes, I read but not as much as I normally read during the summer.

My reading slump runs deep and wide. That is, it endures, clinging to me like a recurring toe fungus. I know what has impacted my reading life--the same things that often keep students from reading. I began thinking about the reasons we find ourselves in a reading slump after a a couple of students dropped by my room and told me that this year 

I've rediscovered a love of reading. 

One added:

I loved reading when I was a kid but then I started hating reading.

Seeing students develop a love of reading and rekindling their relationship with an old reading flame encourages and drives me to work to overcome my reading slump. Simply, I must read if I am to share books with students. Right now, I'm not keeping up. 

Why do we find ourselves in a reading slump? Some of the reasons for my reading slump follow: 

  • Overworked: Last school year (2013-14) I spent nearly all my free time writing curriculum for the NEA Better Lesson Master Teacher Project. At the beginning of the school year, I asked my husband how I managed to do all that work. He responded: "I don't know. You came home, put your head down, and wrote for three or four hours nearly every day." I also spent at least one day each weekend working on the project and even devoted much of my vacation time to the work. 
  • Choice Overload: Believing that readers have books int he "on deck" circle, I encourage students to keep a TBR (To Be Read) list in their writing journals. However, w/ so many fabulous books available, I'm overwhelmed by choices. I start reading one book and find my attention diverted to another. A glimpse of my goodreads account reveals a list of 200 books on my "Want to Read" list, even though I add books sparingly. Simply, I rarely look back at this list and opt for a more recent book.
  • Social Networking: A paradox of social networking exists. Simply, I love seeing what others read and engaging in conversations w/ them about books, but I need to step away from the many platforms that keep me informed so that I can read for pleasure. That said, both goodreads and this blog have enticed me into committing to reading two books that might otherwise not register on my reading radar. I received both books free, one via a drawing that necessitated a commitment to read and discuss the book, the other via an email request for a review. 
  • Bogged Down in a Book: I rarely check books out of the library; however, I couple of months ago I requested a book not in the library's collection. The library purchased the book, which I have and have partially read. Had the book arrived before school started, I'd probably have it completed, but now I am bogged down in this book. Even though I like the writing style, the subject matter, the genre, I just can't get into it and feel guilty for having requested the book because my local library, as are most others, strapped for funds. The book is now long overdue, and I'll pay a hefty fine for my inability to finish the book in a timely manner. 
  • Priorities and Physical Factors: Dare I say it, but at times I'd prefer other forms of entertainment to reading. As sacrilegious as that sounds, it's true. I have poor eyesight. As I get older, my eyestrain has become more severe. By the end of the day, my vision blurs even w/ my glasses. At home I typically remove my glasses to read. I must hold the book very close to my face to see the words. This use to frustrate my parents and still confuses others. We typically don't think it's healthy for someone to hold a book two inches from one's face, but that's what I must do to read most books. Even at school, I must sometimes remove my glasses to read a passage with small typeface. 
  • Fickleness and Distractions: I'm a fickle reader. Simply, I cheat on books all the time but beginning a new one before finishing the one I committed to. I have 29 books in my "Currently Reading" folder on goodreads, but I actually have more than that going. I haven't added all the books into the list. I'm particularly easily distracted when reading professional books. These books often function more as reference books, but guilt consumes me when I haven't finished the hot new professional book du jour. I love professional literature by and for teachers. Currently, I have several recently published professional books awaiting my attention; I have begun reading them all. I just need to finish, but there's always another book I want to hang out with. Hence, my fickleness.
In time will overcome/recover from my reading slump. I began reading a lovely YA book this week and will soon finish it. It's a short text that will give me a sense of success and may pave the way to my finishing other books, perhaps even those with which I once had a crush that needs a little rekindling. 

#BookTalkaDay As this past week was Banned Book Week, I chose frequently challenged books for my daily book talks. Here's the list: 

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

*I'm happy to report that all these books have been checked out and are now enjoying reading time w/ some of my seniors.