Monday, September 1, 2014

Knowing My Students' Reading Lives: Sunday Series (on Monday) #sundayseries

Over on the Portable Teacher blog, Lee Ann Spillane, author of Reading Amplified, has laid down a blogging challenge that I've accepted. Simply, Lee plans to explore the summer reading habits of students over the next eight weeks. 

I am teaching three sections of senior English this trimester, so this is the last opportunity for many to develop the habits of "wild readers," as Donalyn Miller calls them, prior to graduation. Many do read voraciously, but just as many describe themselves as nonreaders. 

As my students just started school this past Tuesday, we spent last week exploring our reading lives through several activities, beginning with book talks on Thursday. I introduced students to two books, one from my summer reading and one a favorite of mine that I know students will also love. I read Sekret by Lindsay Smith and composed a short review for the ALAN Review this summer.

Friday's book talk was for Neil Shusterman's Unwind. It's one of my favorite books for both the quality of writing and its themes. I know many of my students have problems at home, and one student who is a fifth-year-senior, did not have a stable place to live last year.
Since I'd had students "wreck" writing journals on Wednesday, our second day together, I had them begin a TBR list at the back of their writing journals on Thursday. In class, we are talking about the habits of good readers, and keeping a TBR list is one of them.

At first, students seemed hesitant to add titles to their TBR lists, but conversations with several and a little prompting from me got them started. One student added Falling Leaves to his list, but I am concerned that the postmodern structure of the book will be a bit much for this student who says he doesn't like to read.

To help students explore their lives as readers, I asked them to create a graphic of "Books I've Read." I found this idea on Pniterest. Here's a link to the original pin. 
Many students struggled with their graphics. Too often my students' reading lives resemble a barren desert rather than an abundant garden ready for harvest. They simply could not recall the titles of the books they've read. Some said they haven't read any books. I suggested they have a section titled "Books I was Assigned to Read" and another called "Books I Started but Didn't Finish." I told students there are no rules for the graphic. They could create categories based on their own ideas and add titles from picture books, too. 

At the end of the period, I asked students who needed help finding a book to read for independent reading to put their name and interests on a post-it. These would help me connect students to books the next day. 

On Friday I asked students to complete a "Reading Autobiography Questionnaire," which I've adapted from William Kist's The Socially Networked Classroom. As students worked on their questionnaires, which I asked them to include in their writing journals, I visited w/ each student about the book they will read as a free-choice book. I helped students find books and checked out 21 books to students. 

These early days of class are crucial to setting the right tone for the year. I want students to see themselves as readers and see that I value the reading choices they make. Next week we'll spend time composing narratives about ourselves as readers and examine the rights of readers. 

Within the next couple of days, I plan to ask students, "What will it take to get you to read more, particularly during the summer?" I want to plant the seeds that will get their reading lives growing now so that the tilling and planting is done in time for growth spurts next summer. 

I'll let you know what they have to say about how they need their reading lives nurtured and will update this post with my students' "Books I've Read" graphics after I get permission forms back. Right now, I'm sure I need to add another title to my TBR pile!

Here's Lee's challenge for those who want to join: If you'd like join in, grab the graphic and link up in comments. Write about summer reading on your blog. Share your link and respond to at least two other writers. Don't forget to comment and link here, too! 


  1. Wow, Glenda! Sounds like you have had a great first few days engaging students around reading topics. We have yet to start our TBR lists--that's on the list for this week, now I want to add that graphic page about books we've read or been assigned. The difference between students who know and can discuss titles and authors and those who cannot is quite an early of indicator--usually of where I need to work first when it comes to conferring and making the match.

    1. I have no time to spare, Lee. On trimesters we only have 12 weeks. Some kids will go to a different teacher in late November, others will return to me in February. None of these seniors will be in my class from November to February, unless they are in my Communication dual enrollment class. I'll get a new group of "first semester" seniors in November. It's crazy.

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