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:

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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
book.

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.

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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.

Winger by Andrew Smith

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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 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.

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