For some reason the third full week of July seemed like a good time to finish a reflection process that I hope I go through annually. At the end of the school year, some student and I were reminiscing about some of the things that we had done throughout the year. That led me to thinking of what would be the top 10 reading based moments in my reading community’s year. Here is the list I came up with in no particular order.
- It’s Wednesday What are You Reading- I actually started this with my 5/6 class late the year before, and it is a take on what many book bloggers do each Monday. I picked Wednesday because it gave the students two days to think and prepare each week before presenting. Basically, I asked students to come up with something to share about the reading they have done in the seven days between presentations, or just in that week. Sometimes, we would have a specific focus such as sharing a visual you have or have pictured regarding your book, or select a passage that might make people want to read your book. Other times, students had freedom to just talk about their books. Before we started doing this, we discussed at length how to talk about books (getting people interested without spoiling), and groups were usually picked randomly but sometimes I would watch what students were reading silently and find students that fit well together because they were reading similar books or I knew one student would have interest in the other’s book. We tried to do this most Wednesdays although life did get in the way.
- The Riverman Trilogy- I had read the first book in Aaron Starmer’s Riverman Trilogy the year before. It was the kind of book that has the reader continually questioning the characters, events in the plot, what is real and what is in our imaginations, and at times, our sanity. I book talked it in the fall, and a few kids told me they added it to their To-be-read List. In December one of my students started to read it and from that point on, the rest of the class knew exactly who was reading this trilogy because they would get to a plot twist or a part where something odd happened and they would immediately seek out me or eventually someone else who had read it to talk it out. That group of readers eventually had their own language and in-jokes (the word swimmer took on special meaning and students avoided the fish tank in the school for fear of being sent to Aquavania). This might be a you-had-to-be-there moment.
- The Fuzzy Mud read aloud- I won the Louis Sachar book Fuzzy Mud in a Goodreads giveaway and the book arrived early in the summer. I really liked it and thought my students would like to share in the moment of reading an ARC, especially since the story was so engaging. Even though the book was released before we started reading it in September, students did seem to get a kick out of reading such a new book, and they enjoyed looking at the cover, back cover and inside to see the differences between this book and others. The book itself made a great read aloud. Students related to the characters and the decisions that they were faced with, particularly around bullying and how to deal with bullies. The creepy science-fiction plot also appealed to many. This book was something we were able to refer to throughout the year in conversations about other books and when we were writing about our reading I could always model what I wanted by explaining what I would write if the topic was Fuzzy Mud. I find this a benefit to any early in the year read aloud.
- The False Prince read aloud- I planned on reading this page-turning Jennifer Nielsen novel at the beginning of the year, but changed my mind when I decided that reading an ARC just as it was coming out would be engaging. So, I did not get to this book until January, but it still proved to be a great read with my class. We loved trying to figure out the main character of the book. What was his motivation? What would he do next? Was he to be trusted? The many plot twists really engaged my students and we used the book to practice the roles that they would play in their literature circles (they run like book clubs). We could go through the roles as a whole class and I could model the expectations we would have later in the year when they would do these things as individuals. There were two other benefits to choosing this book in particular, one was that I knew it would lead to more independent reading from my students. Several went ahead and read the second and third installments of Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy. Springboarding students into a series is something I try to do with most of my read alouds, I had great success with Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn trilogy the year before. The other benefit is that Jennifer Nielsen works very hard to interact with fans via Goodreads and Twitter and we were able to ask several questions about the book and about writing and get prompt answers.
- Literature Circle/Book Club Groups- Having used this strategy in the past with varying levels of success, I made a few changes this year and I thought it worked better than ever. I had six copies of six different books. I used book trailers, and author interviews to introduce our six books:
In the past, when I used this strategy I had students read at the same pace (and some were bored when it was too slow for them), or I let kids read at their own pace and switch groups when they were done. This latter strategy made it hard for students to discuss books when they were all in different places. This time I figured out which students would get bored if the group progressed slower than they wanted it to, and asked them to be in two groups. I offered this option to the class, but I recruited these specific students and was honest about why (they might get bored, they can read faster, and that I valued the contributions they could make to both groups). I had some students I had not anticipate take on that option too, and we worked out a compromise with all students about how much writing would be expected if someone was in two groups.
6. Reading Growth Writing Assignment- This year I thought I saw more growth in my readers than any other year I can compare. I wondered if students saw this growth as clearly as I did. I was inspired to think on this by a student who said to me early in the year that she loved stories but hated reading. She said it was too hard. I think this was response to a comment that I had made that everyone can be a reader, and when gamers were brought up I had said that they like stories too, the video games they play have stories too. This girl ended up being one of the most prolific readers of the year in the class (to the surprise of herself and former teachers). I decided to ask all students to write a journal entry describing their personal growth as a reader this year. They were very interesting (and personally rewarding for me to read). A few quotes I need to share:
“If the world were without books, I would probably play video games and have no imagination. Books are very important to me and others and I don’t want to stop reading ever.”
“I definitely think that my growth and love for reading has gotten much bigger, and to think I didn’t even like to read that often back in grade four… (now) I absolutely love reading, and will continue to for the rest of my life. ”
“I(n) grade four my mom used to have to make me read this year if my mom can’t find me and has to make me stop reading just so I can eat dinner. Now I love reading.”
“I’ve read 15 different books this year. Last year I read 1 book!!! 1 book!!!!”
I think I will ask students to write this type of assignment each year. It was rewarding for me to read, and satisfied my curiousity in terms of how they felt, but even better was having students articulate their confidence and recognize their own growth. I think that will be a powerful thing for those students moving forward.
7. Skype with Laura Dron- We got into Skype a fair bit this year, but my two favourites were with authors. First, we skyped with the author L.S. Matthews, the pen name used by Laura Dron. She is the writer of the Global Read Aloud book we read called Fish. She was wonderfully patient, and giving of her time. She asked all the questions we could throw at her and gave very interesting insights into her process as a writer, the dreams that she had that inspired her to write, and in particular helped us understand why an author would choose to leave part of her novel open ended or ambiguous.
8. Global Read Aloud- As mentioned, we read Fish, and as the librarian, I recommended Fish in a Tree to my colleague across the hall who had the class that I taught the year before. Students found it really motivating to read along with students in another part of the world. We made connections in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Zealand. Students seemed to really enjoy using Edmodo, and we used Twitter and Skype a bit as well. Students were unanimous in their praise of this concept and recommended I do it again next year. Thanks Pernille Ripp for creating this phenomenon.
9. Skype with Josh Funk- I learned that Josh Funk was an author that did Skype sessions through Kate Messner’s list of authors that Skype. I had read his hilarious picture book Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast and loved it. I e-mailed him and we agreed to a time that worked for him. I got four classes involved and held the Skype in the library during Book Character Dress Up Day. Josh was very engaging. He shared some interesting insights for future writers (His book had gone through about fourteen re-writes, and been rejected over 40 times), some things that surprised us (He hadn’t really collaborated with the illustrator and they had not even met face-to-face) and some things that delighted us (he read from his upcoming Pirasaurs). If you are on Twitter, and love picture books you should make sure that you follow Josh on Twitter (@joshfunkbooks) as he has tweets a lot of links to blogs or websites that feature upcoming books and authors. The highlight of our contribution to the Skype was our secretary (the recently retired and beloved Mrs. Dodds) who asked a question of Mr. Funk in her Lady Pancake costume
10. Battle of the Books- For the first time, my district ran a Battle of the Books competition. This phrase can mean something different to different people, but in my district we used the same six books as in my lit circle/book club and invited students to form teams of four to six to answer questions that were written by teachers based on the books. I was very pleased that my school had five teams formed and only spots for two at the district event. I ran a school event as a qualification for the districts (a lot of extra questions to write but I was happy to have to do it) and two teams emerged to get to the district level. Kids found it very fun and some of the parents that came to participate loved it too. At the district event, we used some video questions that we were blessed to get from authors Kevin Sands, Jennifer Nielsen and Kenneth Oppel. Students were excited to have a competition that was not athletic, and even more so when three of our authors participated. We had dignitaries from our community like the public librarian, the superintendent and the mayor officiate the matches, and all the students that qualified got a book as a thank-you for participating.