I am at our public library right now and it is deserted. Wisconsin was ordered to close their schools this coming week as more and more cases of Covid-19 pile up. The world is upside down.
As we prepare to switch to online learning, I have been thinking of the power of the read aloud. How having the social connection through shared books can bring us together. How doing a read aloud in this stressful time can calm us. And so as we plan for what we will do, I immediately thought of reading picture books aloud to my students and having them respond to them in a short paragraph through Google Classroom. However, there is one glaring problem; copyright violations, I don’t want to break copyright by reading aloud a book and then sharing it with students. So instead, I compiled as many lists as I could find here featuring the creators reading aloud. Perhaps the list will be helpful to you?
Kate Messner has a post that details which publishers have given limited permission to read their books aloud following their guidelines, see the post here.
In 2010, I created a project called The Global Read Aloud, for the past 11 years I have been the driving force behind this global literacy initiative. For 11 years, I have asked educators to recommend books for us to read aloud on a global scale. To suggest books they feel would make for an incredible connection around the world. That will inspire students to learn more about others. That will inspire students to learn more about themselves. That will generate connections that maybe were not possible before.
You could say that for the past 11 years, I have seemingly had a front row seat to the most recommended read aloud books in America. And I am here to tell you something; they are almost all by White authors featuring White kids.
Probably not a shock to many, but still something to sit with for all.
I used to not notice. That’s what happens when White privileges blinds you to seemingly obvious things. I would gladly go with the suggestions not thinking about skin color or ethnic heritage as the read alouds were selected. Not thinking past the book and into the life off the author, after all, a read aloud is separate from the person who creates it, right? And these books were great. These books would generate conversations. These books had merit. These books had endured and would guarantee a beautiful read aloud experience for all of us. And they did.
And yet, a few years in, someone kindly asked; when will the “Global” part of the name come true? When will you pick a book that isn’t set in America, that isn’t written by a White author? I felt so dumb when the comment came my way. How could I have not noticed? How could I have forgotten to think deeper about what the project recommended?
Now looking back at the years of recommendations, patterns emerge quickly. Despite asking for #OwnVoices authors and stories set outside of the White dominant culture, these books continue to be the most often recommended. The same authors keep popping up. The same titles even. Even when they have been chosen in previous years, I am told that they would make for a great read aloud again because surely nothing can beat the experience we already had. Even if the books have been deemed problematic, they are still recommended.
This is not a trend limited to the Global Read Aloud. I see it play out on social media all of the time. Someone asks for a recommendation for a read aloud and in that list are the same White books. The same books that we, White educators, have loved for years and years and continue to read aloud because to us they mean something more. The same authors but with new titles. The same situations. The similar story of yet another White child overcoming obstacles. And of course, we need these stories too, however, we do not need them as much as we are using them right now. With a teaching profession in America that is dominated by 80% White people, it shouldn’t be a surprise, and yet, it should be something that we, as a profession, recognize and see the harm in.
Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, of course, reminded and continues to remind us of the power of seeing yourself in books. We Need Diverse Books started from yet another moment of exclusion in a White dominated conference field. The CCBC continues to remind us how White children’s books are. Lee and Low reminds of how White the publishing industry is. But that doesn’t mean our read alouds need to be. In fact, quite the opposite. This is the once again urgent reminder to all of us, White educators, and those who choose the books that we hold up and venerate enough to make a part of our curriculum, of our experience, that we need to audit our read alouds.
That we need to look past the books we have loved for a long time and see what else is out there.
That we need to start recommending #OwnVoices books. Books written by people who are marginalized within our society.
That we need to expand our loyalties. Our lists should contain numerous names of BIPOC authors who are writing incredible stories.
That we need to start reading more widely ourselves in order to discover the new authors who are creating stories that we so desperately need in the hands of our children.
That we need to stay current.
That we need to audit across grade-levels so that we can see what the read alouds are from one year to the next and disrupt the pattern of White dominance that inevitably occurs within most schools because an audit is not done.
That we look around and ask ourselves; what is the story told of kids of color? What is the story told of White kids? And how often is the story told? How does my read aloud cement or disrupt the dominant culture and how we view others?
Whose story is highlighted? Whose story becomes a part of the community we weave together? Whose stories hold power for all of us?
We need to think of the patterns we continue to perpetuate when we fail to see how much power a read aloud holds. Especially if we teach in White majority schools or in schools with White majority teaching staff. Our kids deserve stories about kids whose lives may not mirror their own, but who are still living incredible lives.
Because that’s what a great read aloud does; it creates connections, it leads to revelations, it it binds us together in deeper sense because we have lived through the story of another.
So we need to keep asking; whose stories are we living through? And how does that impact the students we teach? Because it is, and it does, and it is up to us to do something about it.
Last week, we kicked off our second and final round of book clubs for the year. As I shared the titles for this round of book clubs, I was asked a lot of implementation questions. What do they look like? What do kids do? How do you make them successful? And while I have been referring people back to this post that discusses the changes that we have implemented through the years, I thought it might be nice for a comprehensive post that shares the how and why of what we do.
Timeline and Time Spent
Where do book clubs fit in for us? This graph may help with our layoot 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 90 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:
Five minute word study (a root word exploration required by our district).
Then 20 to 30 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.
After our bell break, we usually finish with book clubs and switch to our writing work for 45 minutes. We will be kicking off our This I Believe writing unit next week that fits in nicely with our book club theme.
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 find others to share their thoughts with. 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 235D:
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.
This also means that the skills they are assessed on are directly tied into their discussions and not to any written work, unless they choose this. 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?
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), this 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 audio books.
While all students are expected 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. 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.
To see our book club choices, please view the slide show. Note: this is updated and I keep updating it so if you want to remember these choices, I would encourage you to make a copy for yourself.
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:
No one in the group can have read the book or watched the movie.
Everyone has to agree to rank it.
For some of my voracious readers, there were not enough 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:
The group can choose to change their book before they even begin – we then show them what is left for them to choose from.
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.
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.
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 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.
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. I will write another post about what I am listening for if there is any interest in that.
PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us!
While it seems as though the year has just started and yet there is so much still to do, I am also ready to take on more ideas as I try to reach all of the students that have been placed in my care. I am ready to think about my instruction, come up with new things to try or ideas for tweaking what I am already doing. And I don’t think I am alone. When I asked the educators in our Passionate Readers Facebook group what ideas they are currently working on, every person who answered had some sort of professional learning they wanted to do.
So in order to start a conversation. In order to help each other grow. In order to renew, refresh, and reinvigorate, I invite you to join us for an informal four-week book club centered around Passionate Readers starting in January 2019. We will discuss teacher reading identity, student reading identity, classroom libraries and of course, share must-read, must-add titles for you to consider adding to your classroom. I know it is early for me to post this, but I wanted to make sure no one missed out on this opportunity to join an already thriving community of passionate educators who are sharing great ideas.
The book club is free, all you need is your own copy of Passionate Readers and to join our Facebook group where the questions and discussion will happen. For those who do not want to do on Facebook, there is a Google classroom to join instead. The code to join is tnsqsz
Also: Please sign up here so that I can email you the study guide and a reminder.
Once a week on Sunday’s, I will do a Facebook live conversation where I can answer questions, highlight books, and share ideas. Throughout the week I then post questions related to the chapters, you can answer them either in the Facebook group or privately in the Google Classroom. Anyone can also share resources, questions, or ideas that they have that relate to the chapters.
The book club will kick off January 6th and run for four weeks wrapping up February 2nd.
1st-week focus – Teacher reading identity and how our habits influence our teaching.
2nd-week focus – Classroom library and must add book titles for the year.