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. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Born to Read: Developing a Reading Mindset #SummerSeries #BookTalkaDay


Today's post is part of the #SundaySeries blogging challenge from Lee Ann Spilane on the Portable Teacher blog.

We're developing a reading mindset in my classroom this year because students are born to read.

Simply watching the curiosity of of young children as they reach for books and crayons supports the idea that children are natural learners. Give a two-year-old a piece of paper and a crayon and watch her write. 

A child's attempts to form words and sounds, which they do through repetition of those language speakers in their lives, demonstrates a child's intuit love of language. 

Children love words. 

Yet by the time many students reach my classroom, they no longer love language. Many are self-described "reluctant readers" who claim they "hate reading." 

We can change this fixed mindset among our students. We can create in them a growth mindset. We can help students develop a reading mindset. 

Here's how seniors in my classroom are developing a reading mindset this year:

Each day I begin class with fifteen minutes of independent reading followed by students composing a one-sentence essay that student volunteers share. Sharing provides students an opportunity to talk about their reading and their peers a chance to add a book to their TBR (to be read) list. Afterwards, I present a book talk and sometimes share both a passage from the book and a snippet from a review if I've written one. 


The struggle students meet in developing a reading mindset is something we should embrace rather than approach with defeat. A recent article in Edutopia  suggests that we all need to embrace where we are in the learning process while simultaneously believing we can get better. At school teachers must embrace this idea and lead the way in our classrooms.

Clearly, if we don't believe that not only is it within our nature to improve, but also within our control, we will become paralyzed. We have to realize as well that growth, change, and progress all take patience and hard work. We can add the idea of resiliency into this mix, because struggle and outright failure are integral parts of these processes.

We each know that students often don't see themselves as learners or as readers. 

At back-to-school night this past Wednesday, one mother expressed more concern about students' homework to read fifteen minutes a day and how that mandate will interfere with her son's work schedule than with celebrating her child reading and liking the book he has chosen to read. Is it any wonder that such a child doesn't have a reading mindset?

"Why Some Kids Try Harder and Some Kids Give Up" in the Huff Post describes two categories of learners Carol Dweck has identified: 

  • Those with a fixed mindset, who believe their successes are a result of their innate talent or smarts
  • Those with a growth mindset, who believe their successes are a result of their hard work
Students with a fixed mindset see intelligence as something one possesses rather than something one acquires. This paradigm says learning should come easily and without challenge. 

Conversely, a growth mindset is grounded in the belief that challenge and academic success go hand-in-hand. The more we challenge ourselves, the smarter we become. 

And so it is with readers in our classroom. The more we challenge them to read, and the more they challenge themselves to read, the more they will develop a reading mindset. As this short video shows, our minds are like muscles that can change. Let's embrace the struggle to grow readers in our rooms as our students stretch their reading mindset.



Book Talks this week #BookTalkaDay:

Ask the Passengers by A. S. King
Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarity
Funny in Farsi by Firooeh Dumas


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Go Your Own Way---in Your Reading Life #SundaySeries #BookTalkaDay

This post is part of the Sunday Series Blogging Challenge via Portable Teacher.

When I accepted Lee Ann Spillane's invitation to participate in the Sunday Series blogging challenge, I did so knowing that I don't assign summer reading to students. Consequently, I realized my posts would have less to do w/ summer reading programs and more to do w/ the reading community in my classroom. I suppose I'm going my own way, just as readers prefer to do--especially during the summer. 

Although I don't assign summer reading, I have colleagues that do, particularly in the honors classes. For example, students taking English 9-Honors are required to read Animal Farm by George Orwell and complete a series of tasks online. Essentially, it's a unit (a mini online course) for the novel. My colleagues know that this is not the approach I would take if I were teaching the class. We can agree to disagree and still have admiration and respect for one another, which I do for both. 

Students taking AP Language and Composition are required to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and write a paper. Similarly, those in AP Literature this year were required to read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, write a paper and take a test.  Again, as I shared with the AP Literature teacher, who is teaching the class for the first time, this is not the approach I would take, although I don't have a problem expecting students to read during the summer and giving them some direction that will help prepare them for the course and test. I suggested my colleague consider How to Read Literature Like a Professor as an option next summer. 

Students taking AP Language and Composition in my school have long been required to read Huck Finn during the summer. I consider Twain's novel the most problematic in American literature, and it's a novel I have taught often when I teach juniors. 

English teachers relish summer as a time for catching up on our own reading. Even when I'm required to read a book by my administration as part of a staff development course addressing our school goals, I often resent the mandate. Simply, the books are often poorly research and more poorly written. Reading them is painful and a waste of time. A couple of examples: A Framework for Understanding Poverty, A Repair Kit for Grades. Both books are wretched reads, as are many others in their genre. 

As one of my colleagues who requires specific summer reading and I visited during our PLC collaboration, I asked: "What did you read this summer?" He shared several titles, including mysteries and other light reading fare. I asked: "What were you assigned to read?" Of course, he responded "nothing." Just as I did this summer, my colleague had gone his own way in his reading life. He wasn't in school. He was on vacation. Of course he read, and we have enjoyed lively chats about our reading lives and the choices we make as independent readers who go our own way. 

This week's #BookTalkaday Book Talks:

When I checked students' TBR lists in their writing notebooks, I saw several were putting descriptions of books instead of titles. This prompted me to begin keeping a list on the board (image above). I've blogged about some of these books and include the links to the posts below. This week I book-talked the following books:

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel A fabulous golem story. 

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina : I had to book talk this in my speech class, too, because the kids were fascinated by the title. I won my copy in a Goodreads givaway. 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (I included a mini-lesson on direct address as part of the book talk.)

Thunder Dog by Michael Hingson (My 9-11 book talk.) 

Stitches by David Small: This is Small's graphic memoir about the abuse he endured as a child and his survival. Can't say enough good things about the book. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tell Me a Reading Story #SummerSeries

Last week I accepted Lee Ann Spillane's challenge on the Portable Teacher blog to post about summer reading during September and October. I started early! Today is my second post in the challenge. 

This week I asked students to "tell me a story about your reading life." I invited students to consider their summer reading, to tell me a story about the moment they lost interest in reading, or to tell me how I can help them rediscover a love of reading. 

I can't assess my students on their required summer reading because we don't have a summer reading mandate for the students I teach. We do, however, mandate reading (and lots of tasks based on the required reading) for students taking honors and AP classes. I'll write more about that in a later post. 

For now, I want to tell reading stories about my students. 

After they completed the quick write, I asked students to share their responses. Getting students to share their writing this early in the year is often difficult, but as they began to read their responses, a common theme emerged: For many students the nail in the reading coffin has been hammered by Accelerated Reading programs. 

One student shared his frustration with AR points and how he was driven away from reading for pleasure by AR mandates. Happily, the student also shared that he discovered The Fault in Our Stars, which made him cry--both times he read the book.  How wonderful to hear a senior boy admit that a book made him cry. Other students echoed this young man's reaction to AR. 

Reading their reading stories also reveals my students' love of fantasy. One student wrote that reading 

lets you escape into a whole new world, which is also why I love fantasy. Fantasy books have a new world every time you pick one up, which is just amazing to me.

Among this student's favorites: The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Eragon, Harry Potter. 

For others, a busy life crowds reading to the back of the priority list. One student wrote about loving reading as a child and finding pleasure in "turning the crisp pages" of a book. She credited her mother and the weekly trips to the library as instrumental in her reading life. Now, wrote the student, homework, school activities, her job, her social life all edge out reading as priorities. 

The story of my students' reading lives exists in the realm of Once Upon a Time. Once upon a time these young people loved reading. Once upon a time they turned to reading for escape and enjoyment. Once upon a time AR, for many, taught them that points mattered more than their reading preferences, and they learned to game the system. Once upon a time, life's responsibilities took over and pushed reading out. 

There can be a happy ending. One student wrote about loving reading as a child, learning to dislike reading via AR, being put into study hall in seventh grade and having no homework, which prompted the teacher to send her to the library for a book to read. She read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and later read A Child Called It. Now the student is reading The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner, a book from my classroom library. 

This student's reading story is moving toward Happily Ever After, and that's not a fairy-tale ending. 

This week's book talks w/ links to my reviews: 

We Were Liars by e. lockhart

Skinny by Donna Connor

Caged Warrior by Alan Sitomer

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park