Monday, September 26, 2011

Face the Front

It's library day...the best day of all.   Before school, drop by the shelves for some primping.   From each shelf , choose one book to "face the front."   Pull it from its snug little spot and place it on the empty right side of the same shelf with its cover facing out towards your readers.  

You'd be surprised how difficult the fine art of browsing can be for struggling readers.   Advanced readers love teacher recommendations too.   Everybody wins.

Just any old book?   NO!   Think about your first class of the day and what tantalizes them.   Choose those books first.   As your time in the library is drawing to a close, replace any vacated spots with books that you know have some appeal to the next set of kids you are bringing.   Also, if you have recently done read-alouds in class, include those in the featured books.

This may bother your librarian.   Talk it over first.   If done correctly, this process will make ushering 25+ readers through the stacks easier for both of you.   Keeping the books on their same shelves also gives you, any support staff, and the librarian reference points for sending students to the right bookcase.   For example, flipping Stargirl's bright blue cover around will indicate where the SPI section is as you help students quickly track down books.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It

Kelly Gallagher is a full-time English teacher who writes about the crafts of teaching teens how to read and write.   He's a dynamic speaker.   If you see his name listed among the choices of presenters when you attend your next conference, he's worth your time.

I found a copy of Gallagher's Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It in my principal's office last week.  It's a topic that I've heard him address in a hotel ballroom full of educators.   I've also read parts of his book online and seen him featured in a YouTube video.   Finally, I was able to read his book in its entirety.   You should too.

Gallagher elaborates on finding the sweet spot of reading instruction which lies somewhere between underteaching and overteaching books.   Our primary goal as reading teachers is to develop lifelong readers and critical thinkers.

The 50/50 approach is what works for Gallagher.   His students' reading is split evenly between recreational and academic.   He gives credit for the recreational reading, but he does not "chop it up" with worksheets and quizzes.   This type of reading is independent.   To develop academic readers, Gallagher puts in more supports for the reading.   He makes sure students use fix-up strategies when they become confused.   He creates a purpose for reading.   He activates prior knowledge.   These books may be too difficult for students to read them "recreationally."   Gallagher approaches classic literature by connecting the thinking that the book requires of them to the thinking that the real world needs from them.

You will benefit from his outline of the 50/50 approach, list of books that appeal to reluctant readers, explanation of what good readers and struggling readers do (don't do) while approaching a text...the list goes on and on.   Gallagher is a master teacher.   There are a couple of points that we do not quite agree on.

Gallagher does not have kind words for the Accelerated Reader program, a program I find helpful in aiding my students.   Yes, it can become a nightmare when teachers don't use it the right way.   Also, I think it was designed with a reward system in mind.   For example, when you reach a specific number of points, your teacher or school may reward you with a treat.   With the exception of end-of-year certificates, our school does not operate that way.   The students and I agree on a reading goal based on their independent reading level for their homework credit.   I provide silent reading time in class for them to reach their goals.   They take oven-book multiple choice tests on the book, so I can track what works and does not work for them.   The records are incredibly helpful to me as I can see their likes and dislikes and come up with book recommendations for them based on level, length, and/or topic.   I can also initiate conversations with them about books we've both read.   It's powerful for students to have lists of all of the books that they have read during our school year together.  

Additionally, in 8th grade I have not quite mastered the 50/50 model.   Most of my students, even the advanced ones, do not like reading more than one book at a time.   Many adults I know feel the same way.   In Gallagher's classroom, his students are reading one recreational and one academic book at all times.   This split focus frustrates my 8th graders, especially the ones who read slowly or have memory challenges.   I do occasionally have them use Probst's questions for interacting with texts, writing prompts or graphic organizers as they read.   Even so, I don't think that the amount/type of work I attach to their independent reading would qualify as the "chop up" approach that Gallagher rails against.   In eighth grade, students seem to enjoy telling me all about the book that they chose to read for themselves.   It's identity.

In spite of minor differences in the way that we approach reading instruction, I still believe that Gallagher is telling us the hard truth.   I do not oppose standardized testing in moderation, but some teachers, schools, school systems are losing sight of what it takes to create real readers.   Achieving a level of success on standardized tests and developing critical thinkers with a passion for reading are not mutually exclusive.

What can you do today?   Increase your students' and children's access to books, magazines, comic books, graphic novels...the printed word in general.   Providing a variety of reading material to students is the cornerstone of any effective, authentic reading program.   What changes can you make in your classroom to connect students with high interest reading materials in the weeks ahead?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Somebody Wants But So

One easy way to break down a fictional text is to use the "Somebody Wants But So" approach.   It's less complicated and time consuming than a plot diagram.  

Readers can reduce a story to a character's goals, the plot's complications and the problem's solution.   Even with a simple task, it's a good idea to model the approach using a children's book.  

Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach

Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach works well.  

Spoiler Alert:

Scaredy Squirrel wants to create a private beach, but he'll need to visit a real beach and face his fears to get a seashell.   So he hatches a plan to address all of his worries (sea monsters, pirates, falling coconuts) and get a shell.   He even accidentally enjoys himself when his careful preparations go awry.  

Scaredy Squirrel likes to be in control of his environment and pre-plan for any potential worst case scenario.   Sound like anyone you know? Ahem.   That would be me.

[Which brings me to my next point.   When I was allowed back into the library after the tornado hit, I started hoarding a few books on behalf of my colleagues and our students.   Some of my all-time favorites went into bright orange tubs while the rest of the library was packed into cardboard boxes.   I wanted to know where Captain Underpants, Harold & George and Babymouse were at all times.   They went with me to "night school" last year, to my shed for the summer and to our new campus for the fall.]

Babymouse #1: Queen of the World!

Since we've finished novel studies in class, I thought we'd relax with our heroes today.   Each child read one of the books and summarized the text using Somebody Wants But So.   For most 8th graders, the books can be finished in a blocked class.   If students read at a slower pace, the Babymouse series is shorter than the Underpants.  

To an 8th grader, children's books are non-threatening and provide a platform for teaching new concepts.   Graphic novels often contain humor and plots that speak to the teenage experience.   Babymouse's locker troubles, bad whisker days and mean girl encounters are familiar to 8th graders.   As for Harold and George-- well-- they ARE a little immature sometimes for 8th graders, but I can't help but love their shenanigans, and my students are kind enough to indulge me.

While the majority of our library is still in cardboard boxes, it was nice to look out across the classroom and see everyone relaxed and engaged in a book.   And that makes the Scaredy Squirrel inside me relax too.