If you follow me on Instagram, you may know that I recommend a lot of books on there, in fact, it is the number one thing I use my account for. Perhaps you follow me there? If you don’t, or if you missed some, I figured a blog post to pull them all together would be helpful. That way you can see what I have read and loved, see what age groups they may work and order some books yourself. I don’t post all of the books I read, just the ones I love so much that I want to share them with others. I use the hashtag #pernillerecommends and they get cross-posted to Twitter as well if you want more than 1,000 book recommendations. Either way, here are the books I loved and shared from May until today!
Which books have you read and loved? I am already excited to share all of the October reads I am loving over on Instagram. Happy reading!
As always, I am also curating lists on Bookshop.org – a website who partners with independent bookstores to funnel book purchases through them, if you use my link, I get a small affiliate payout.
I have been spending time in the small moments lately in class. The moments where I get to connect with a student one-on-one, small peeks into who they are, what they are willing to share. I find myself speaking more quietly, smiling bigger so that hopefully my eyes can show how grateful I am for their time, their words, their trust. And we have slowly been building some sort of us, a community pieced together by the stories we share and don’t share.
At the cornerstone of what we do is our reading conference. Not just because these small conversations allow me to get to know my students as readers, but because they allow me to get to know them, period. A greeting, a question about how 7th grade is going and what is happening in their life and then we are off, speaking about who they are as readers, what they are working on and the motivation they have behind the work they are doing. They tell me proudly of successes, sometimes shyly of perceived failures and I reassure as much as I can; it’s okay if you haven’t read any books in a while, it’s okay that you don’t like reading ( we will work on that together), it’s okay if you have never found a book, if your brain is loud when you read, if you just don’t have the energy. It’s okay if you just read graphic novels, if you dislike magical fantasy, if you have yet to find an author that speaks seemingly just to you. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay I repeat as a way to hopefully make them believe it. To help them know that they are who they are and I am so glad they are here in our classroom together. However they showed up, whoever showed up. We are on a journey, a journey!, and wherever you are is where you will start.
I have to remind myself of this journey as I feel the silent urge to move faster. To get further. To teach more. To “catch up.” Who are we supposed to catch up to anyway? I have to remind myself to stay in the small moments, to use my eyes to express what the mask hides. To reach out in all the ways that we have at our fingertips, to assure and to ensure. To share my own stories as an invitation for them to share theirs. To handle their words with the care they deserve, to handle them with care.
And so I write down notes and I ponder how can I serve these kids best? How can I help them pick up their pieces of their reading journey and thread together a new pattern, one that continues the successes that they have, one that mends their perceived shortcomings so that they can see that no matter what they carry into the classroom, they are readers. Because so many of them don’t see that. So many of them have convinced themselves that because they do not like reading, then they are not readers. They dismiss their own habits of consumption of text. They scoff at the one book that they did like, seeing it as fluke rather than a goal that they accomplished. They fail to see their own journey as readers as the testament to their own determination that it really is. These kids, our kids, who see themselves as kids who hate reading don’t even recognize their own strength. How still showing up into a space filled with books, how still book shopping despite the many books they have tried, how still trying just one more book is nothing but resilience on display. Is everything I hope every reader has; perseverance to keep trying despite how awful it might have been. To have hope in books. To have hope in themselves. To have hope in our year together.
And so I will stay in the small moments, in weighing how I speak, how I read the room. How I am paying attention to the subtle shifts in dynamics and the subtle shifts in trust. In finding time for all of the conversations, not just for me but for them as well as we build this year together. Their words are gifts, no matter how they are spoken. These kids are gifts, no matter how they show up. Read on. Speak on. Dream on.
You may have noticed that I have not been sharing as much on this blog as of late. While there is a variety of reasons for it including the death of my father, the school year planning starting, and just trying to not work as much as I have in previous years, I am still actively sharing ideas, just in other formats.
So where can you find more ideas from me these days?
Conferences – I am so excited to be back out with school districts, professional organizations and conferences, whether in-person or virtual. While I continue to teach fulltime in 7th grade and have no plans for changing that, I am able to take some time to go and coach other educators and also speak on any of the work we do. In the next few months, I will be with educators in New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Iceland. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please just reach out.
Instagram – I use this platform almost every single day, whether it is to share book recommendations under #PernilleRecommends, snapshots from my classroom or sometimes personal life, or even questions to think about the practices we uphold. This is where I share the most and where you will find the most peeks into the teaching I do. To follow me there, go here.
Twitter – I continue to use Twitter to share questions, share ideas, and also have my posts crossposted from Instagram. This is where you will see longer threads of thoughts as well as links to other incredible resources shared by others. To follow me there, go here.
Facebook – I have a like/hate relationship with this platform but I do love the groups I have created on there for the massive ideas that are shared. Whether it is for the Global Read Aloud or for the Passionate Readers Facebook group, I share classroom documents and unit plans here for the most parts as well as post questions. There are thousands of people in these groups willing to share, join us if you want.
My books – I have written four education books since 2015 and many of my ideas can be found detailed in there. I am currently writing a fifth book as well, which is also taking up a lot of my time when the space is there for it. It is so exciting to dive back into the world of book writing and to get longer ideas down when thinking about how to build reading identity as part of a child’s personal journey. We shall see when it and if it comes out.
Of course, the blog will continue, however, only when I feel the need to write. So until the next idea comes in, see you in the other spaces!
A year ago, I shared a digital reading notebook that I would be using with my 7th graders as I prepared for a year of pandemic teaching. The work we normally did by hand would need to find a home digitally as I had no idea just how long I would be teaching virtually, and so I created a collection of tools for students to use in order to continue our work furthering and centering their identity as readers, even as we were far apart.
Now a year later, I was asked whether I would be using the tool with my students again or whether it had been changed, and this post is the answer.
I did update the tool in September of last year as students started using it to streamline it a bit. Here is the updated version. It streamlined some of the pages and cut down the size a bit which helped a lot. I still love the tool, just wish there was a way to use it without it clogging down their computers.
So as of right now, because let’s face it things change all of the time, I will not be using the digital tool in this iteration again, for a few reasons, but the main one being that I am (right now anyway) scheduled to be in person fully with my 7th graders. This means that instead of having a digital tool like this, we can create sections in our notebooks for this work that they can can be shared when needed. This has in the past been easier for students rather than needing to log onto their chromebooks, then wait for the tool to load, then get to the right page etc. Another reason for stepping back to paper is because scrolling through the tool on chromebooks was unwieldy and slowed down our work. Many students wanted to do the work but their computers froze trying to open it up.
However, the work within the pages will still be going on in 7th grade. Everything within this notebook is important to the work we do as we dive into our reading identities and how the emotions and experiences we carry surrounding that shapes the decisions we make with our reading lives. I will just go back to stand alone forms, gathered in their notebooks or in my binder depending on the purpose of it, to do the work.
So where can you find some of these forms as a stand alone form? Their to-be-read list is just the first few pages in their notebook, they write down author, title, and genre so that they can find the book later. I usually have them set aside 4 pages for this. Others can be found via the links below.
While these first few surveys and goal exercises are just the beginning, they provide me with an invitation into a conversation even if they don’t write much because if a child writes “IDK” for most answers, that tells me something about them as a reader, if a child doesn’t want to share anything that tells me something about them as a reader.
As I dream about the school year to come, I am excited to continue our work surrounding reading identity and hopefully help students protect or cement a positive relationship to reading. I have seen the difference this work does, I have seen it impact kids in thoughtful ways as they start to understand and work with the experiences they have had as a readers and chart new courses. Not just because of these forms or the survey questions I ask, but because of the conversations and subsequent actions that they lead to.
One of my most successful ways in establishing trust and urgency with my 7th grade students and their reading choices is through our one-one-one conferring time. This established time happens during our independent reading time, every day for 20 minutes we start class with this self-selected reading time where every child is invited to fall into the pages of a book. It is the cornerstone of much of our continued work together and allows me a peek into who how they see themselves as readers, as well as the work they want to undertake.
Every conference is five to seven or less minutes after the initial one, that means that I usually can meet with three students every day. With class sizes ranging between 25 and 29 kids, this gives me a chance to meet with every student once every three to four weeks depending on what else I might need to help with during their independent reading time. When I taught 45 minute classes, it took longer as we only had 10 minutes of self-selected reading to start the class with.
I always take notes while I meet with them, it is to help me remember what we discussed, help me support their pathway and also keep track of who I am meeting with, I usually meet with them alphabetically because every child deserves a reading conversation and they can always see what I write down. I don’t want any child to wonder what notes I am taking and worry about that for some reason.
The conferring note-taking sheet I use changes as I think about its use further every year, so if you like this current version make sure you make a copy of it because inevitably it will change.
The top portion of the sheet is dedicated to when we meet for the very first time, while my students fill in an initial reading survey which offers me a glimpse into their thoughts of who they are as readers, it is really not until I sit down with them and get to know them that we start the work. After all a survey is just an invitation but a conversation is where we can start to explore their identity if they feel comfortable to do so.
The different components mean…
Confer by me or them – where would they like to have these conversations? I want to respect their boundaries and make them feel as comfortable as I can as we work to establish trust.
Book reading and rank – What’s the title of their current book and how would they rank the current book they are reading on a scale form 1 to 10.
Goal – What is the initial goal they have set for themselves as readers in the 7th grade reading challenge?
Why – Why have they set this goal, this is an important conversation to have because many of my students set a goal to just make the teacher happy, not a goal that they actually care about.
Last Year – What did their reading lives look like the previous year?
Progress – By the time we meet they have been working on their goal for a few days, how has it been going?
Hard about reading – what do they find difficult about reading?
The subsequent sections are shorter, I take fewer notes in order to be able to meet with students more frequently. Of course, if a child needs more time then we take it.
Some of the components remain the same, but the new ones are…
Read next – Do they have ideas of what to read next? I so often find that the vulnerable readers I teach have few ideas for what to read next and then spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to find a new read, this question will allow me a peek into their process and help them start book shopping before they finish or abandon their current book.
What are you working on as a reader – what is the goal they have been working on?
Progress – How has it been going?
Next step OR how is this challenging you – What are next steps they can take, what are next steps I can help them with and/or how does their current reading goal challenge them?
What did I learn about this person today? It is vital to me that I leave with a deeper understanding of who they are as a person and not just about reading, this question reminds me of that.
While this conferring sheet is only a small sliver of the work that happens all year as they explore and develop their reading identity further, it serves as a conversational touchpoint that reminds us of the goals we have, the work we need to do, and who we are as human beings in our classroom. While some kids are eager to share their journey as readers, others are much more hesitant or fully unwilling and I respect that as well. After all, they don’t know me yet so they have no reason to trust me. We then take the time needed to develop our relationship and continually invite them into this conversation. It takes patience and dedication but every child is worth it.
A few years ago I traveled to do a day of learning with passionate educators in Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows in British Columbia. After flight cancellations and changes in airports, Denise Upton, one of the district’s helping teachers, graciously agreed to pick me up and take care of me during the stay. While together, she told me excitedly about Story Workshop, oral storytelling grounded within playful literacy, that they were doing with children as part of their literacy approach. She shared all of the work that they did with students in order to give them natural materials to manipulate and create stories with before they ever sat down to write. She spoke of Indigenous oral storytelling traditions and how they were working on bringing the rich traditions of the peoples’ whose land their school buildings sat on and whose tribal members were within their school population back into the classrooms as a way to honor, teach, and preserve a broader envisioning of writing I was inspired and intrigued. Particularly, after she told me how they were using these material kits with their upper grade levels as well and that the response they had was incredibly positive. After a whirlwind visit, the idea sat in the back of my mind for a while, hoping to someday become something I wanted to do with my own 7th graders.
Well, after a year of teaching unlike any other, after too much screen and not enough togetherness. After once again teaching kids who repeatedly told me how much they hated writing, how writing was so hard, whose sentences were forced across the pages, I decided that some day was now. With a commitment to reconsider every unit and every idea we build our classroom learning on, taking our writing in a much more tactile and playful direction was exactly what I need right now to get excited about next school year. Hopefully, my incoming students will think so as well.
So with a loose idea of what it was Denise had shared with me, the seeds started to grow; what if I build some oral storytelling kits for kids to use in partnerships, trios, or by themselves before we begin to write? What if I collect natural materials for them to manipulate and play with as they share stories from their own lives and also from their imaginations? Surely someone had done this before?
The answer is yes, many have! None of my ideas shared here are really original but I got so many questions on social media when I shared the kits I was building that I figured a blog post would be nice. If you are learning about Indigenous storytelling, there are so many wonderful resources shared, such as this one. If you google “Loose Parts”, you can see a lot of information. If you follow the work of Angela Stockman, she has been sharing so many ideas for years and is truly inspirational. If you are trained within Montessori, you know this work. If you know Reggio Emilia principles, then you know these ideas. If you have worked with younger grades, you probably do this already. There are so many resources out there, so dig in and learn.
My purpose for these kits are to get kids talking more before they write out stories, whether they be stories from their own lives or stories they invent. I want them to build scenes or entire stories together or individually depending on the exploration we are doing. I want them to play with their imagination and ot be forced into written production as quickly as we have done in the past, I want them to build community through story, I want them use their hands more. I want English to have more joy and I want it to authentically fit into the identity-centered work we already do in our literacy explorations.
Building the Kits
I had a million ideas right away and needed a way to ground them so I started by focusing on ideas for what to put in them and also building the kits to give me a more tangible sense of what it would look like. I hate so much that educators are almost always forced to purchase things out of their own pocket, so I spent school budget money to purchase the toolboxes. I bought two different kinds, five altogether, so that I can share them between tables – I typically teach 28 students at a time, so I wanted to make sure that I had enough kits to share materials between 10 different groups if need be. I also needed the kits to not take up too much space in our classroom, be easy to store and move, as well as have different size compartments. The first kind I bought was this one and the second kind was this one.
All the boxes are removable in both kits so we can spread them out on the different tables as needed.
Once I had the boxes, then I got more serious with my materials. I had a few guidelines I wanted to follow:
Natural materials whenever possible
Different sizes of things to use
Material that doesn’t necessarily look like “one” thing in order for them to be used for many things
Low cost and easy to replace
Then I wrote a list, there are so many lists floating on the internet but I posted mine to Instagram and got even more ideas as well as a huge “Duh!” moment. Notice on my original list, I have nuts on it. That is not going to work at all for some of my students due to their allergies. After a helpful educator made me see the light, I updated my original list.
I knew that if I felt like spending a ton of money, I easily could just order all of these things but I don’t want to. So, instead I turned to my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and asked if anyone had any materials they could donate. So what you are looking at in the kits above, almost everything is donated from kind strangers or friends who happened to have materials lying around. Amazing!
So right now in the kits I have:
Seashells, all sorts, all sizes.
Pine cones – I need to gather more.
Small popsicle sticks – they are pointy and I don’t know if I love that.
Wine corks that do not have wine labels on them.
Small cork buttons.
Wood buttons – I bought a giant bag off the internet.
Wool yarn in different colors – I have cut lengths of string in a variety of lengths.
Feathers – I think I may add more of these.
I also purchased felt mats in green, gray, and brown for the kids to use as a background. They can use more than one if we have enough left over, again I went with natural tones as a way to center us in nature even if the story takes place in a different setting.
Things I would still like to add:
Glass beads of some sort
Beach pebbles for more color
Large popsicle sticks
Ideas for use
So while the kits themsleves are a lovely work in progress and bring me happiness right now as I plan, what matters more than the stuff in them is making space for them to be used with our students. So as I planned for the first two weeks of instruction (I do this in order to be able to walk away for awhile, not because I want to work all summer), I planned with the kits in mind.
My two week plan can be viewed here, but please know that it is so much a work in progress, that some of the ideas in it are my own and others are based off of the incredible work others have kindly shared, and that I have given credit to those whose work I am borrowing from or copying. Please feel free to also borrow or use my ideas, just give credit. The kits will be utilized, hopefully, on the third day of school in an activity where students continue to think of the stories they carry and start to build scenes from their own lives that they then, in turn, share with their peers at their tables. After their initial appearance, they will continue to be integrated into our work as we start our first longer writing exploration; personal narrative. Students can use events from their own lives or springboard events from their own lives into a fictional story.
I also want us to think of how the kits may help us work within the emotions we have tied up with our writing, how we can use them to go deeper into story and how stories can weave us together even when we don’t see eye to eye. I am hoping that as we explore our own identities and how that makes us view and react to others, these tangible items will ground us and make us feel safer within our burgeoning community. I am hoping that having these tactile explorations will bring more playfulness into our classroom, as well as more joy. We will also create expectations of how to use the kits with each other. My main focus for that is to be respectful of the material and of what is shared within their stories, but I will ask the students to also think of how to use the materials, how to clean up in order to preserve the kits, and how to work together. It really all ties into the community work we do throughout the year.
My own children helped me eagerly build the kits and have since then also used them. It has been amazing to see them build scenes, stories, and whole worlds using just these materials and then walking me through their stories that they now see so clearly. Even my son who has repeatedly that he hates writing has been using the kits and telling me his stories. I hope I will see the same willingness to try in my 7th graders.
So there you have, my entry in oral storytelling kits. I will share more ideas as I use them with students, but for now, the kits are being built, the ideas are coming together, and the work is just beginning. Have you used kits like this before? Do you have any ideas or questions? I would love to hear your thoughts.