books, Reading, Reading Identity

Our Favorite Reads of the Year… So Far – A Bulletin Board Idea

One of the things we try to do at our school is to make our reading visible. From my own display of books I have read outside of our classroom, to the rotating book displays in our classroom and school library, to the “Just Read” posters outside staff doors, we want our students to see that there is a lot of reading that happens in our community. A few weeks ago the “Favorite reads…” bulletin board idea was shared in the Facebook Passionate Readers community and I knew I wanted to create it. So thank you Tracy C. for sharing the idea in the first place.

All I needed to do was make time (which is hard to do these days) and find some book spine templates since I knew I did not have the patience to create them myself. Monday-Tuesday before break I made it my mission to get this done as I figured this was another quick way for our scholars to show off their reading. After a lot of gluing, this is the finished product. (It looks more polished in pictures ha, but it works).

May be an image of indoor

I asked students to grab a spine or two and share what their favorite book(s) had been so far this year. I also showed them pictures of other similar displays so they knew what we were going for. Then they got to work, it didn’t take long for most of them, I then just had to glue them up. I even got a compliment by a student I don’t teach as I put up titles and other teachers complimented it as well.

So why bother? It once again makes reading more visible in our school community, it also is a way for kids to recommend books, as well as for me to get ideas for my own reading. While we always share our best book of the year in a speech at the end of the year, I like adding in this component as a check-in a few months in. And if you are wondering what kids have loved so far, take a look. There is a wide range of books, many I have book talked, some I don’t even have in our collection as they are more mature, and some kids have found on their own.

No photo description available.

After I posted the pictures in our Facebook group, a fellow educator took the time to create book spines for others to use for free, yet another reason why I love our community. I share these here with her permission, thank you Lisa Anderson for taking the time to make these.

Perhaps you hadn’t seen this idea either or perhaps you are just looking for the push to do your own, whatever your reason, I hope this post is helpful. I really don’t have a lot of time to give to bulletin boards but am excited for this one, also because we have room to grow; more titles can be added as kids finish books and find new favorites.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Book Clubs, books, Reading, Reading Identity

My Best Ideas (for now) for Book Clubs at the Middle Level

Once or twice a year, dependent on what the students feel like doing, we set out on our book clubs journeys in 7th grade. For 11 years I have been sharing ideas on this blog and so it feels natural to revisit past posts and update what we have been doing since my practice is always evolving, if only in small outward ways.

Last year, we did them virtually, as detailed in the post here. This year we are back together and the excitement is building for our first book clubs of the year, especially after the kids heard they were not writing a literary essay to go along with them.

Timeline and Time Spent

Where do book clubs fit in for us? This graph may help with our layout for the year. While I love doing book clubs, I will not do more than two of them in a year, our students ask us for moderation in everything we do and so two is enough in order for them to have other experiences with books as well. Of course, students may choose to run their own book clubs at any point, but they are not required to discuss their books like this except for these two times.

Having a gap in the book clubs allows us to continue our all-year focus on joyful independent reading, as well as see their growth. Since we start out the year by focusing on their independent reading and then slip into a read-aloud for the Global Read Aloud we have done a lot of work with establishing our overall reading community. This helps a lot when I need students to work independently either reading or discussion while I am coaching other students in our team area.

In our 88 minutes, our breakdown looks something like this (note this is the only time during the year that we do not start our class with independent reading):

  • 10-20 minute mini-lesson, it becomes about 10 minutes once we have read aloud our anchor mentor text – For our Dystopian book clubs I lean heavily on the work shared by TCRWP and so we use the short story Ponies by Kij Johnson, in spring I use short story that I found in the brilliant book Unbroken – 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens edited by Marieke Nijkamp. Some of the mini-lessons are inspired by the work shared by TCRWP, but then we have put our own lessons as well.
  • Then 30-40 minutes is reading time for the groups. They can also choose to discuss in their group, I require they discuss in front of a teacher once a week.
  • Then we pull back together to discuss our inqury question and do more learning surrounding this as we add to our knowledgebase. We end the class with 15-20 minutes of creative writing.

Overall Purpose

The number one purpose of book clubs for us is for students to engage in meaningful discussions, that are rooted in their chosen books but not confined by them. We really want students to feel like they are honing their voices, continuing to carve out their ideas and thoughts on the world, and also finding others to share their thoughts with. We also want to make space for our continued ponderings about the world and so the dystopian book club is framed by the inquiry question; How close are we to living in a dystopian world? We want our kids to be able to be together, to explore facets of the world they are curious in, and to relish this time we are spending diving into beautiful books. This community piece is huge for us, which is why there is very limited written work associated with their time in book clubs.

We have a few guidelines in room 203:

  • The book club experience needs to protect their reading identity.
  • The book club experience needs to be worth their time.
  • The book club experience needs to give them opportunities for authentic, non-teacher directed conversations.
  • The book club experience needs to help them grow as readers, thinkers, and human beings.
  • The book club experience needs to be accessible to all types of readers. It is not just meant for the chosen few.

We want to make sure at all times that these guidelines are honored in order to protect the reading community we have painstakingly built together. This means that we check in with these guidelines before we implement anything.

Implementing an inquiry question that goes beyond their individual books allows us a natural opportunity to dive into the history of this nation, to learn, with choice embedded, about the laws that govern us, as well as how different groups of people have been targeted differently throughout history. This also changes our experience from one that is focused on the future and “what if?” to the right now. This is an important shift that has taken more root in the last few years in our classroom and my thinking and implementation around us is still evolving. Right now, a lot of what we learn is through short documentaries that then build our knowledge base. It is important for me that I offer up the many different opportunities for our students to think deeply beyond just literary terms and book clubs offer us a way to do this. One of the explorations we will use is choosing videos to watch, reflect on, and discuss from these Supreme Court briefs.

Book Choices

Central to the experience is, of course, the choice of books. While our first book club of the year is centered around Dystopian Science Fiction (which the students loved), the second round is centered on the theme overcoming obstacles. Because this is a broad theme it has allowed us to bring in all types of formats of books, as well as honor many different reading accessibility points. We, therefore, have more than 40 books to choose from. These include many genres such as realistic fiction, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction. It also includes different formats beyond the regular chapter books such as free verse novels, graphic novels, and audiobooks.

While all students are offered the opportunity to read at least one book in the three or so week span that clubs last, we also have groups who choose to read an entire series or multiple stand-alone books in order to compare them. They then engage in across series comparison work. One trick then is to make sure that they slow down enough to think deeply across the books and not just skim through the pages.

I have also implanted a short story option for the kids who for whatever reason are not in a space to take on a full book right now. We then have 3 short stories, one for each week, where we provide scaffolded questions that they can prepare for and I then facilitate the conversation. This has worked really well for the few kids who have needed it.

To see our book club choices for dystopian, please view the slide show. This changes as new books are published, I am always specifically looking for dystopian books written by the global majority. For the spring book club, the book choices change a lot.

One thing, we are asked a lot is how do you have so many books? There are a few factors at play here. One, my district, Oregon School District, believes in the power of funding books. This is why we have a beautiful school library and classroom libraries. We have a well-curated book room that continues to grow and expand as we add more titles, we tend to add groups of 5 to 10 titles in order to have a lot of different books to offer rather than just a few. I also buy a lot of books, I wish it wasn’t that way, but I do. While I certainly buy many via traditional means, I also use Books4School and Scholastic to help supplement our collection.

Because our book clubs are central components every year, we have been adding to our collection year after year and I don’t think that will stop any time soon. We have a lot of different readers and need a lot of different books.

Making Groups and Choosing Books

Because choice and honoring who our students are as human beings is a central component, we knew we needed to offer students ways to be invested in who they are spending all of this time with, as well as the book(s) that they end up reading. This is why they have a central voice in who they are with.

This starts with the partner interviews. This is a way for all students to reflect on who they are as a reader and what they need others to be in their groups. While many students naturally gravitate toward interviewing their friends, they often find that their friends’ reading habits do not match their own. They use this sheet to interview each other and then hand it in. For this later round of book clubs, students were given the opportunity to totally group themselves. We did discuss that they needed to be welcoming to all students and to base this off their reading habits, not just who they were friends with. All classes did a really nice job setting up their groups. All groups are kept to 3 or 4 students, with a rare exception for a partnership or a group of 5. We like the 3 to 4 people groups because it means everyone has an active role.

We do not assign roles to members of the group because we see this as an artificial component of groups, that while it may be helpful when students first start out in book clubs in younger grades, really can end up changing the experience and not allowing them to fully express themselves they way we would like them to.

Once they have created a group, they then go through the slideshow to select their top 5 of the books. There are two rules, they have to follow:

  1. No one in the group can have read the book or watched the movie.
  2. Everyone has to agree to rank it.

For some of my voracious readers, they sometimes can’t find five great choices. We then enlist the help of our classroom library, school library, and our librarian in order to help them find something they want. This is also where I typically end up buying one or two other sets of books that then get added into our rotation.

Once their books have been selected, they turn their sheets into me and then wait a day while we puzzle out what they get. The very next day, they are then introduced to their book club choice. Students then create their own reading plan breakdown. This is once again to honor their busy lives and reading habits. They then sign up for one day a week to discuss in front of a teacher, who assesses their discussion skills. There are still a few choices here:

  1. The group can choose to change their book before they even begin – we then show them what is left for them to choose from.
  2. The group can choose to abandon the book together within the first 3 days of reading. This is in case they don’t love it as much as they should. We want this experience to be awesome, not awful so book choice is vital.
  3. A student can choose to abandon their group within the first 3 days as well, if they really dislike the book or the dynamics are not working out for some reason. They then need to approach another group to ask if they can join them (with adult support) and then catch up to that group.

If a group needs access to the audio version of the book in order for all kids to be successful, we then add the book to our Audible account. We don’t ever want the decoding of the words to stand in the way for a child to truly participate since the decoding is not what is being assessed. This also allows our kiddos who need extra support to be a part of these clubs without barriers that may harm their reading identity. Many groups also end up using Audible as a way to read together, thus enhancing the reading experience.

And now they read and we start our mini-lessons. We always give them a few days to get into their book, during this time we do reminders of what we are looking for in powerful discussions, as well as have them do a main character baseline.

Other “tools” we introduce to help our students find success are…

  • Creating an anchor chart following our mini-lessons of what they can pay attention to when they are reading.
  • Handing them a bookmark that also gives them things to discuss. They tape their reading plan to the back of it. I also pull small groups that need extra support with their discussions in order to help them find success.
  • Have kids create their own rules for how they want their clubs to function. Kids used to post these but now they just share them with me, it is not even so much the rules I am interested in but rather the discussion itself. How will they help each other find success and how can they also hold each other accountable?
  • I stop discussions if they are not going well. If it is clear that a group is not prepared to discuss, I would rather pause them than keep them going. This means they get a chance to come back the following day once they have prepared. If it happens again, then they do their discussion ad we discuss what needs to happen the following week.
  • Lots of post-its or note cards. This is the only time during the year where we require students take notes as they read. I do mini-lessons on what you can put on a post-it note or what you can annotate for so that there is a deeper meaning to their notes and not just “…the teacher said I had to do it…” some students need more help than others. They cannot discuss if they do not have evidence pulled to support their thoughts.
  • Discussion prep sheets. We have found that if we have students pick things they want to pay attention to and discuss the following week, their discussions are so much better. This graphic organizer changes as we see fit. Before they then discuss in front of us, we ask them what they are focused on this week and then hold them accountable for that. Two of the three things they are asked to focus on are items we have discussed in class, such as power structure, unspoken rules to live by, or character change.
  • Partner feedback groups. I have written more about these in this blog post.

After the first week, I pull them to discuss in front of me and then continue to do so every week. The first discussion is a formative discussion and then the following two are summative.

What do I assess?

We start with a pre-assessment using a choice of a short film or text in order for students to show us what they already know. This also lets me know what I should focus heavily on or not. We have purposefully included a short film so that decoding does not stand in the way of kids expressing their thoughts. Again, we really want all kids to be able to show off their knowledge without some of their usual obstacles.

The skills they are assessed on are directly tied into their discussions and not to any written work unless they choose to do written work. The rubric for their discussions can be viewed here. If a student does not do well in discussion or would rather be assessed through writing, we give them the option to do this one-pager created by my fantastic colleague, Liz. We also have a few kids where they are doing the one-pager and discussing with an adult instead of with a group because of extenuating circumstances. However, we try our very best to give ALL kids the same experience, even if we provide more support for some of them in order to be successful. Often, kids who are labeled as below grade level readers will not be exposed to the same reading experiences and opportunities as their peers, because we worry that they will not be able to do it, however, when we remove even the opportunity for them to try then we may end up limiting their future growth. How can you ever be successful in discussions if you have never been expected to do one?

As they are discussing, I am marking down what I hear and also thinking of what supports they need in order to continue their growth. One of the big areas of growth is always how to explain how their chosen evidence ties in with their ideas beyond the obvious and to help them go deeper in their reasoning, this is major work we are continually working on all year, not just in book clubs. Their discussion tends to last 10-15 minutes, at the end I ask them to tell me what they think went well and then what they need to work on. Only after they have spoken, do I offer my feedback as well as a plan forward. We then discuss the idea and what they need to grow, then they are released. We do three discussions in the three weeks, the first one is formative, the next two are summative. If a child is out on a day they are scheduled for discussion, we either wait until they are back if we can or they do a minor written discussion for me.

As a fun way to wrap up the unit, I have all groups do  12-word book summary, detailed here.  They get two days in class to work on it and then they present in front of each with motions. Then we end with watching The Hunger Games or Wall-E as a way to wrap up the unit.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, being me

Perhaps Like Me

I have been meaning to check in on here, to write out words that do not carry the weight of the world within them, and yet every night, as I fall asleep before 9 PM, I am left with no words, no energy, no reason to share what we are doing because all of my energy seems to be centered in merely existing as this year unfolds.

We thought that last year would be hard, and yet this year, with its intangible difficulties, with its ever-present pressure to continue to just figure it out, has snuck up on me and my family in a way I could have not imagined. How do you maintain a sense of family when you barely see each other beyond the dining room table and guiltily still put your own children to bed around 8 PM just so that you can try to catch up on the sleep that seems to never be caught?

Perhaps, you find yourself in a similar situation. Unable to quite explain to others why this year is harder than the last and yet wish that you could so that perhaps someone could you give you an answer of what to do instead? Because you have tried to change the way you teach, you have adapted, differentiated, cut back, raised up, and lessened the load. You have sought out the experts that graciously share their knowledge, eager to give as much as they can even as they don’t have to navigate the everyday realities of teaching during an ongoing pandemic and you wonder how much they really can know. Perhaps, like me, you have read books, listened to podcasts, browsed social media, and stared in awe as others seem to be functioning just fine, and wondered what is wrong with you and this exhaustion that creeps itself into everything you don’t do. Perhaps, like me, you have tried to make space for self-care but realized that even there you run out of time. And so the guilt intensifies because now you cannot even care for yourself well so how are you ever to be trusted with the care of others?

And perhaps like me, you stand in your classroom, surrounded by incredible children, and realize that this is not the root of the exhaustion but everything that waits outside of the door is. That these kids, these brilliant, resilient, vivacious kids, are not the reason for the despair but one of the only things that combat it. That if you are feeling this way then how do the kids feel? And you see it in the dragged footsteps of your own children as you get them out of bed, in their short responses when you ask what homework they have, in their pleas to please stay home just so we can be together. The world changed and yet we are expected to go on as if it hasn’t because we have so much to do.

And the tiredness is pervasive. It shows up when you check your email and see one more helpful tip or additional thing to do. It shows up when you are told of the professional development that must still be completed even though you know that you have developed yourself more in the last 20 months than you ever had before in your teaching career and no official recognition happened for that. It shows up when you are expected to be evaluated this year and it makes you want to laugh because you are certain this year is not the year to think of the future because you can barely keep up with the growth you have already been forced through. And how are administrators supposed to find time for that anyway? It shows up when your community is at odds with schools at the center because of what they say you do or don’t do to indoctrinate children

Yet the world keeps spinning and we are told to not only continue to do the near-impossible; catch them up, fill the gap, change your teaching, change the world, but also to take care of ourselves, to rest, meditate, and go for walks. To consider how every action we do charts our course for the future. And you try, and you fail, and you feel like it will never be enough, and yet you show up the next day and try again. Because that’s what we do. We try again, even if we no longer know what to try or how we can find the energy for again.

And we will do so until we break because that is what the system has trained us to do.

So in this quiet moment of this Saturday without plans, I urge us all to also recognize that the new normal is being shaped right now and that unless we collectively raise our voices and push back on the increased workload, the increased pressure to get back to what was a broken before, this will be the norm. That this feeling that so many of us carry of not being enough, of exhaustion, will be the feelings that shape the teaching professions even more so for years to come. And it wasn’t like teaching was an easy profession to begin with.

So perhaps, like me, you don’t need more to do but less. For someone to remind you that we are doing hard things every day. That the kids in our care are doing hard things every day. Of how we inch by inch are building a new normal and how we need to be in charge of what that normal looks like alongside the kids in our care. That if we do not continually remember how broken the system was to begin with then surely we will try to glue back together the pieces even as the cracks show.

And so I remember how important boundaries are, of how it cannot all be placed on the shoulders of educators because that was never what our job was supposed to be. Of the power of saying no, guilt-free. Of the power of raising your voice and pushing back. Of saying enough. Of recognizing that there is only so much you can do and that does not make you a bad educator but instead a realistic one. Of knowing that every day the biggest gift we can give to the kids in our care is to be fully rested, to be fully present in order to recognize that no, the problem is not just you, it is the very system we reside in, one that we have a chance to shape into something better than it was before but not if we don’t push back on the things being forced upon us now. So rest up and raise your voice when you can. I know I will.

being a teacher, books, picture books, Reading

#PernilleRecommends – My Favorite Reads May through September, 2021

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!

Picture Books

Early Readers

Middle Grade

Young Adult

Professional Development

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 am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

being a teacher, being me, Reading, Reading Identity, Student dreams

Spending Time in the Small Moments

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.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

being a teacher

Where Am I Sharing Ideas These Days?

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!