What Have I Read This Summer (So Far)?

I have read more this summer than I have in a long time, and I’m kicking myself for not reading more during the last school year. I have read 14 (!) books since school ended not counting professional development books (I think I finished Book Love the week after school ended). I’ve LOVED most of what I’ve read this summer. I also will probably finish another book today, making it 15 books in about 1.5-2 months.

I seriously probably read a book a month during the school year, so I’m determined to read as much as possible during the upcoming year to keep up my faster pace. Realistically I know I’ll slow down–I think during the school year, I’ll have maybe 2 school nights a week free (to spend with my kids and read before bed) and limited weekend time, but I’m motivated to read more than last year.

Witch & Wizard by James Patterson

I liked this book but didn’t love it. I love some fantasy, but in general, it’s not my genre, but I did enjoy this and think it was funny. I doubt I read the rest of the series, but I will recommend it to my fantasy loving students.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Oh my gosh! I LOVE this! This book is now added to my favorite books list. So funny but also tragic at the same time. I’ll definitely be recommending this one to students and I may even use it as a class read aloud. My students would love it!

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

I learned about this book from Whole Novels for the Whole Class. It’s super short and an easy read and deals with kids judging other kids and bullying. I didn’t love it, but it has a good message and I read it in one sitting.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

SO GOOD! I loved this and will definitely recommend to my students. So emotional and so addicting once I started it!

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

Very quick and easy read and it has a lot of action. I think a lot of my kids will like it. I enjoyed it.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

It took me a little while to get into this but once I did I flew through it! It reminded me a little of Gone Girl. I liked it a lot. It’s not YA, but I’ll probably recommend to some of my students who like mystery/thrillers.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Honestly when I started this book, I didn’t think I was going to love it. Once the friendship between Catherine and Jason developed, I got more into it and ended up really liking it.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

I really liked this. I think this would be a good read aloud for my class too.

Wonder Struck by Brian Selznick

This was so cool! There is one story told in words and an alternating story told in pictures that link together in the end. It’s a good story and a lot of my students would love the “break” from reading to go through the illustrated story.

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

It took me almost half of the book before I got into it, but it was good. It was really sad!

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

This was amazing. It deals with a daughter of a solider with PTSD and all of the things that go along with that. So sad and gut wrenching at times, but so so good. I’ll definitely be putting this one in my students’ hands.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

I heard about this on the Global Read Aloud website and I’m wanting to participate in the GRA this year, so I read this book first. This was the older student book choice and I can see why! It deals with bullying and it’s very good and really funny too. I’m also going to read Fish by LS Matthews which is another GRA choice and decide between the two. My students would love Yaqui Delgado though and regardless if I choose it for the GRA or not, I’ll be recommending it to them!

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

My first graphic novel and I really liked it! I read it in one sitting and it was funny and cool. I’m planning on buying all of Telgemeier’s books for my classroom library because I have a lot of students that’d love these!

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

This is really, really good. It took me about 50 pages to get into it but really loved it once I did. It’s written in alternating viewpoint from a twin brother and sister, set 3 years apart. It might be slightly hard to follow for some of my lower level readers, but I think some of my higher readers would enjoy it.

Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers

I’m still reading this but will probably finish it today. It’s crazy to read the conditions some people live in. I think a lot of my students would like reading this.

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What are my classes like?

I teach high school special education. This upcoming year will be my second year in my current position. For four years, I taught lower functioning 10th through 12th grade in a self contained class. This past year, I changed schools to take a high functioning resource English position. I enjoyed the change. While I loved my first teaching job, I love that in my current job I get to use my English background and I see more improvement in my current students over the course of a school year.

My current students are 9th-12th grade students. All of them have a disability and an IEP. My classes have 10 students maximum and I have a classroom aide (without an aide, I could only have 8 students maximum). My classes are mixed grade levels because of scheduling issues, so I teach the same lesson (usually) in every English class. I also am starting to teach a transitions class this year that focuses on skills my students will need as they prepare for graduation and after they graduate. This class is typically very small (this past year it was only 4 students), and currently only has 11th and 12th graders (and usually those that don’t have vocational classes–but that’s not always the case). In English, I have the same students just about every year they’re in high school. There is one other teacher at my school that’s taking one class of English so I can teach the transitions class, so there will be up to 10 students in that class, and there will be a few each year I won’t have. Also, there are the occasional switches (if a student is really struggling in regular education English and switches to resource or if they are excelling in resource and switch to regular education English).

Using the Star Reading test as an assessment, my students have a VERY wide range of reading levels. The average is about 5th grade to 6th grade. I do have a few that scored less than that (my lowest being about 2nd grade level) and several above that (my highest is a college level reader with a writing learning disability). This huge range is one reason why it’s SO hard to find a common text that will work for the whole class. This is another reason why I’m so excited to start an independent reading approach that is so focused on individual student interest and level. I do have a few high school interest/low level reading books in my classroom library, and luckily a lot of YA books are typically 5th or 6th grade reading level.

Writing is an area that the majority of my students REALLY struggle with. I’ve recently discovered Gretchen Bernabei and her strategies and look forward to implementing them with my students this year. I think we’ll see a huge improvement.

I have such great students. I do think I see a few more that are anti-school than a general education teacher sees. Don’t get me wrong; I know there are lots of students who don’t like school everywhere, but I feel like students in special education typically give up on school more often and earlier than regular education students because they have so many academic struggles and many feel like it’s easier to just give up. I have a handful of students I want to reach so badly (and I’m hoping the Book Whisperer approach helps them) because they HATE school. Daily, they are complaining, and talking about dropping out, and questioning why they have to be there. I want so badly to show them the value of education and the value of reading. I’m scared I won’t be able to. They are probably the biggest reason for my classroom changes for the upcoming school year. I feel like I reached the majority of my students this past year. I am confident that the independent reading approach will be beneficial for those students that excelled last year. But I’m searching for something that will reach those kids that don’t want to be reached. I’m hoping this is it. I look forward to trying it this year! Hopefully this post gives you a little better idea what my classes are like, and from all of the research I’ve done, I haven’t seen any anecdotes on a special education teacher using the Book Whisperer strategies. I’m interested to see how successful it will be with my students.

Goals for Next Year for English

I spend a lot of time planning. Not just for my classroom. I’m a planner by nature. I’m constantly spending time planning future trips or activities to do with my kids and family. I’m not sure I’d function properly without a life planner/daily calendar. I’ve spent a lot of time reading and thinking about my classroom for next school year.

Originally I was planning whole class novels and short stories to set my class up pretty similarly to what it was like this past year. I read Whole Novels for the Whole Class by Ariel Sacks and really loved it. I will definitely be adopting some of her strategies for my class this year. At that point (sometime during spring semester) I was still planning on doing several whole class novels throughout the school year because I do see the value in having a common text to build community and have a text to refer to as a class. My biggest concern at that point was reaching some of my least engaged students. I have several that are just so done with school and struggle so much that they don’t care. I did my very best to choose interesting texts last year, and they did successfully engage some or even most of my students. But not all. I’m looking for something to reach those kids that just don’t want to be engaged (or think they don’t). I’ll post more about my specific group of students in another post.

I loved so many of Ariel Sacks’s ideas from WNFTWC, but I still was struggling with trying to select texts that would engage all of my students. Then I read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, and I LOVED the idea but I was skeptical at first that it would work with my students. I was so in the mindset that I needed to catch my students who were trying to fake read that I wasn’t thinking that my job is to convince them that reading is valuable and to stop fake reading in the first place. After a lot of reading and research on Miller’s strategies, I decided to really commit to it for this next school year. I next read Penny Kittle’s Book Love and got even more excited about a free choice reading focus in my classroom. I’m still in the very beginning of this, but I’m so excited to see how it changes my students and how they view reading.

My goals for my English resource class for 2015-16:

  • Be EXCITED about reading and talk about it daily. Emphasize FREE CHOICE in reading. I don’t care what books they choose as long as they are reading daily.
  • Book talk daily. I know this may not always happen, but it’s going to be a priority.
  • Independent reading time every single day. I know it’ll be tempting to cut reading time if we are short on time, but I’m going to do my best not to. One thing I’m doing to try to keep it the focus daily is to having reading time be the first 15 minutes of every class every day. I will also have to commit to enforce that reading time is for reading! Not whispering to your neighbor, not finishing homework for your next class, not going to the bathroom or going next door to ask your last teacher if you forgot your jacket in there. I will show my students that reading time is important in our classroom.
  • Reading conferences at least once a week with each individual student to talk about their reading.
  • Using interesting mentor texts to teach reading skills.
  • Having a class read aloud novel or a daily poem to use as a community text. Incorporate as much class choice as possible when selecting these.
  • More of a writing focus. So many of my students struggle with writing and honestly I was overwhelmed at how much work we needed to do last year to improve writing, so while I tried, I didn’t try hard enough. I’ll be incorporating writing days each week and have found so much good information and strategies in Gretchen Bernabei’s books/website. I look forward to using her ideas with my students. I think it will help improve all of their writing.
  • Incorporating Article of the Week. I read about Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week last year and thought it was such a great idea. Nonfiction is something my students usually resist, but having interesting current event articles in our weekly plan is something I want to start. Hopefully lots of good discussion and improved nonfiction reading/writing skills will result.

I plan to post a lot more about these ideas in detail, but this is an overview of my thoughts and plans for next year. I’m excited to see how it benefits my students.

Resources I mention in this post:

Ariel Sacks 

Donalyn Miller

Penny Kittle

Gretchen Bernabei

Article of the Week