Read Alouds So Far

Read alouds are one of my favorite changes for this school year. Last year, I’d pick a novel to do with the whole class, read it, quiz after each chapter, test after finishing, repeat. This year the read aloud is the last part of class. I try to finish with at least 10 minutes left, and the beauty of saving the read aloud until the end is that if the lesson goes nothing as planned and I end up with way too much time, we just get more read aloud time. I love it. The first day or two, a couple of my classes were gripe-y (“Can’t we just talk the last few minutes?”) but by now they’re all used to it. When we finish the lesson (or book talk if I do one at the end of class), they go put their binders up and sit down. The majority of kids are really engaged in the read aloud. The first couple of days, I pulled a stack of several books that I’d either found on “Good Read Aloud” lists or know are popular with teens. It was important to me that they weren’t too long (I don’t think any are over 200 pages, or if they are, it’s just by a little) so we won’t spend months reading the same book. First I went through the stack and asked if anyone in the class had read them. My classes are small, and I knew there were at least a few of the books that no one had read, so I didn’t want to do any repeats, but I did offer books like The Outsiders and The Giver although in every one of my classes, at least 1 kid had read both of them (I was sad, especially about The Outsiders because I love it so much).

After eliminating books that someone had read, I read the descriptions about each book and then let each class choose. I offered to vote on paper or just discuss it and choose together, and every class just wanted to talk about it. These were the winners for first read aloud of the year:


Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Two of my classes chose this one. I love this and have seen it on many read aloud lists. We are not very far into it yet, and I know there is more action later, but honestly, my classes are not that into it yet. One of them asked when they were going to
find out what happened to Melinda. I think once we get a little further, they’ll really get into it.

7804180Blank Confession by Pete Hautman

I discovered this book last year when searching the internet for engaging books for teens. It’s short, it’s funny but also has a lot of action and is a mystery, and two of my classes chose it. This is the book that I would say is winning in the excitement factor right now. The two classes that chose it are probably two of my classes that are generally less interested in reading, but several in each class are REALLY into this

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

I love this book. I read it this summer and I was hoping one of my classes would choose89716 it. Honestly the class I’m reading it to didn’t choose it, but they said each book left in the running after eliminating the ones students had already read would be fine, so I told them this would be my choice. They agreed. We aren’t too far into it, but I think they like it. They’ve laughed out loud a couple of times and they definitely are engaged during reading.

In October/November, I’m going to participate in the Global Read Aloud. If you don’t know what it is, go here. It’s my goal to have all of these books finished by then and in the classes we have extra time in, I’ll read interesting articles, short stories or poems as the read aloud. I’m planning to give my classes the choices between the two upper level GRA books Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina or Fish by LS Matthews.

After the GRA, I’m planning to try to read as many genres as possible for read aloud. So, for example, in my classes that are reading Blank Confession, I won’t give them another mystery option; I’ll have them choose between other genres for the next book.

I am loving read alouds so far! It’s such a nice way to end class.


2 Weeks In and Already Making Changes

After just one normal week following our Reading Days (Monday and Tuesday) and Writing Days (Wednesday and Thursday) schedule, I’ve realized I don’t like the split week. I feel like it’s going to feel very divided and I don’t like it. So I’m taking another lesson from Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild and doing reading focus weeks and writing focus weeks, although I’ll probably do units instead of weeks. For example, we’re doing a genre study now. It’ll take me a few days into next week to finish it. Then we’ll start a writing unit. We’ll move to another reading skills unit after the writing unit and alternate all year. Fridays were going to be an article of the week, but thanks to a very generous principal, my aide will be taking my classes to the computer lab on Fridays so I can focus on special ed paperwork (it’s out of control). I’ll be using Edmodo and have weekly assignments where the kids will reflect on independent reading, plus do current events articles on the computer or ACT prep. I think this will actually be very beneficial for my kids (we have limited technology in the classroom).

Independent reading is going well minus a few students. I have one student in particular whom I’m really excited about. Last year it was like pulling teeth to get him to do his AR reading, and he’s already at least 150 pages into a book in less than 2 weeks of school because it’s a book that is about something he’s really interested in. A few (mostly very low level readers) are pretty resistant but hopefully conferences and lots of book suggestions will help them find something they’ll enjoy.

My first week of 2015-16

It went well. I have some great classes and I think the transition to the independent reading approach is going well. I have most of the same students each year they’re in high school, so the majority of my students are not new to me, so this change is definitely an adjustment for them. I didn’t start conferencing this week; I’ll start on Monday. I did many book talks, and we did book speed dating one day to encourage them to add books to their To Be Read list. I think it went well. I had a couple of kids already finish a book this week. I also have some that are very resistant (they swear they hate reading) so I’ll be doing my best to encourage them along the way. I think conferences will help a LOT with these kids, and I think they’ll be beneficial for those that love reading too. I LOVE seeing the excitement some of my students have for reading already. I’m excited to continue this and see how my students respond to it.

Audio books: My New Obsession!

For some reason, I have always thought audio books aren’t for me. I’m not sure why. I guess maybe because in middle tumblr_static_eleanorpark_thumbschool/high school I never preferred to be read to; I always would read ahead. If someone is reading something aloud, I would much prefer to have a copy in front of me. So I just assumed I wouldn’t like audio books. Lately I’ve been reading like crazy every chance I get. Then I thought about audio books and the car. I don’t drive a LOT, but daily I’m driving to and from work and just listening to the radio, so I decided to give audio books a shot. I checked out Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell at the library and I. LOVED. IT. Not just the book–it’s amazing–IfIStaybut the listening experience. I listened to it in less than 2 weeks (and I checked it out a week before I went back to work, so I wasn’t even driving every day). I am definitely a Rainbow Rowell fan now and want to read Fangirl next!

As soon as I finished Eleanor and Park, I immediately went to the library to check out another, and now I’m listening to If I
by Gayle Forman. So far, it’s absolutely heartbreaking, but I really like it.

I’m now an audio book listener. I will always have an audio book to listen to in the car from now on!

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

chainsI just finished Chains a couple of days ago. It’s set during the Revolutionary War and is about Isabel, a 13 year old slave who gets sold with her little sister to a horrible British Loyalist family in New York. She meets Curzon, another slave, who encourages her to spy on her masters and tell him information that can help the Patriots. Lots of sad things happen to Isabel “Sal” and her sister, but Sal is a fighter and is not going to give up (which sets up the ending for the next book in the series). This book has a lot of action, but it was slow for me in a couple of spots. I do think it’d be a great book to use to teach the Revolutionary War. I liked it, but didn’t love it. I’m undecided if I’ll read the next book in the series, Forge. I’ve read other books by Anderson and really love her writing, but this isn’t cvr9781416961451_9781416961451_lgmy favorite of hers. Ashes, the third book in the series is supposed to be released in 2016.

Winger by Andrew Smith


Winger by Andrew Smith is about Ryan Dean West, a 14 year old junior at a private boarding school who plays rugby, is in love with his friend Annie, and is hilarious, but extremely immature and shallow when the book begins. He definitely evolves as the book progresses.

I finished Winger yesterday. Honestly for the first half (or maybe even more), I wasn’t that into it. I thought it was funny, and I was definitely planning on adding it to my classroom library because I think the crude, teenage humor and relationship problems will appeal to my students. I honestly didn’t like the main character Ryan Dean West very much and I just couldn’t really connect to it. The second half of the book is SO GOOD. It gets much, much deeper, but still keeps the humor (although it’s definitely still crude). Without giving anything away, it takes a huge turn that I didn’t see coming at all. I will absolutely be adding this to my classroom library and recommending it to students (with a definite language and crude humor disclaimer). Stand-Off, the sequel to Winger, is scheduled to be released September 8, and I have it on my To Read list!

What does my first week look like in English?

I actually finished up my first week plans (for English, not Transitions) yesterday…2 weeks early! I’m planning on tons of reading encouragement. We’ll do the usual and go over class procedures and expectations and set up reading and writing notebooks but most of the week we’ll talk about books. I’m planning on lots and lots of book talks, choosing independent books and beginning to read by day 2, book stack previews and “speed dating” books to grow To Be Read lists and starting a read aloud within the first couple of days. I want everything to point towards reading.

Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits


This is the PERFECT book to read before going back to school because it made me so excited to start this new (to me and my students) approach! I absolutely loved this book.

I loved The Book Whisperer because I agree with Donalyn Miller’s thoughts on the importance of free choice in reading, but at times, I felt like I wasn’t sure exactly how to change everything and get started with this approach. I read The Book Whisperer then I read everything I could find online, and then I read Penny Kittle’s Book Love. After all that, I felt like I had a pretty good beginning and started to piece together plans for this upcoming year. I decided to order Reading in the Wild a couple of weeks ago and I’m so glad I did. This book of Donalyn’s gives so many ideas (and copies of the forms she uses) to put her ideas into use.

Here are a few (okay, it’s a lot, but I loved so much!) of the things I loved and want to use with my classes from Reading in the Wild:

  • time for reading daily and conferring with students about their reading (also in The Book Whisperer)
  • starting a discussion with students about reading outside of school and how to find small chunks of time in a busy schedule to read outside of school
  • observation forms for students avoiding reading during class reading time and how to approach them about it
  • student goal setting for reading (will be very different for each student)
  • reading notebooks to keep track of books finished, abandoned, books to read next, genres read, goals, etc.
  • reading responses of some kind–either letters in their notebooks or possibly using something like Edmodo
  • Status of the Class–this is an accountability tool Donalyn uses temporarily at the beginning of the year and after breaks to encourage students to do their reading–I love this!
  • read alouds daily–books, poems, short stories, articles, excerpts–it doesn’t have to be a whole novel that we are reading-it could just be a chapter then the book is up for check out by students who enjoyed it
  • Text We’ve Shared list posted in the classroom
  • voting for a favorite read aloud at the end of the year
  • book drawings if we get a new book everyone is excited about
  • preview stacks for students who need help choosing books
  • a “Reading Graffiti” Wall where students add any quotes they love from books they’re reading
  • book commercials
  • lots of reflecting on their personal reading lives: how they choose books, who influences book choices, reading ability, etc.
  • planning for reading over school breaks and ensuring students check out books and then reflecting on how their individual goals for the breaks went
  • encouraging personal book challenges
  • possibly a class blog for reviewing books
  • formal conferences with students once per grading period to fully reflect over their reading lives

I absolutely recommend this book to any ELA or reading teachers!

What I Did Last Year

Last year was my first year teaching resource English and I was definitely experimenting with things and using other teacher’s approaches to test out what works for me. Overall I had a good year and feel like I reached a lot of kids and got several to like/read books and stories they would have never read but I also lost several that didn’t care about the whole class books and stories I chose which is why I’m moving more to a reader’s workshop approach this year with free choice independent reading being the focus. 

Last year I did a pretty traditional English class model with a few changes. We started out the year looking at different reading strategies. I didn’t apply this to reading as much as I should have. We mostly just talked about the skill and why it’s important in reading.  I didn’t give them enough practice actually using the skill. Then we moved to literary elements and I did the same thing–what is it with some examples but limited independent practice. After that I moved into choosing short stories or books and we’d do background info and vocabulary, read, discuss, take a test. Repeat with the next story. We read Of Mice and Men aloud in class and although I will not be doing the stop and quiz every chapter like I did in the unit I taught last year, I do think I’ll keep this in our read aloud cycle every few years (I teach most of the same kids for 4 years) because just about every student I had loved it.

After Christmas, we did a short poetry unit that mostly just focused on terminology and definitely not on enjoying and appreciating it. Then we read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Most of my students really enjoyed this but I lost some during this and it took us a long time to get through with all the stop, discuss, and quiz going on.  It’s such a great memoir that would be so so much better as a free choice book or even a read aloud (in excerpts).

Then we moved into more short stories. Same process for them all: background info and vocabulary, read, discuss, quiz. 

We read everything aloud. The stories and books I chose were too difficult for independent reading for most of my low level readers but I now realize without some independent reading they aren’t going to make much progress in their reading levels. This is why the free choice reading model should work better for my kids. They can start where they are. My kids on a 3rd grade reading level can choose books that work for them.  Many YA novels that are popular are around 4th or 5th grade level (and many of my students are around 5th grade level so this is great for them. And as I’ve learned from reading books by Donalyn Miller, reading level of a book is not something that needs to be set in stone. A student’s motivation level to read a particular book can bridge the gap between the student’s level and the level of the book.

Like I’ve said before, I think that last year was successful for a lot of my students, but this year I’m aiming to reach all of them.