conferences, connections, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

An Update on Our Student Reading Action Plans

This is the form I use to keep track of my notes as I meet with students, to see the form and more details, go to the original post

A few weeks ago, I blogged about an idea I was trying in our classroom as a way to help the kids who seem to just not be “there” just yet. Who seem to just not have found a great book just yet. Who seem to just not be really reading more than a few pages a week. Who seem to be going through the motions rather than fully investing. Who seem to go from book to book without ever really sinking in. The idea was simple; do a daily check in for two weeks with just a few kids, ask them about the book itself but focus more so on their habits. It couldn’t hurt, right?

So for the past few weeks, this is what I have been doing. Taking a minute or two and checking in with just a few students, not ignoring anyone else, but starting with these few kids first to make sure we had a conversation about the book they were reading, as well as how they felt as readers.

What have we uncovered in these small conversations? Lots actually. Some things I already knew, such as how they felt about reading, but also some things I didn’t. How many of them don’t know when they should book shop, how many of them have a to-be-read list but don’t use it for anything, how many of them pick books that for whatever reason are the wrong kind of challenge for them at that time. And within these moments of revelation lies the entire heart of what I hope all of these incredible students will experience this year; a reading experience that is meaningful to them. And so these moments, based around a simple premise, it was exactly what I had hoped would happen; establishing a deeper relationship with these students as we unravel their reading identity further.

It turns out that almost all of them are having an incredibly hard time selecting a powerful book for themselves. That while they have had some positive experiences with books in the past, they don’t exactly know what made that book amazing. How many of them stick with the books, dreading every moment, rather than searching for something better. That they will “settle” on an okay book rather than pursue something better because they don’t think that better exists. That despite all of our conversations about book choice, book abandonment, paired with ample book access and book recommendations from their peers, from me, from our librarian, it is still not enough.

But these conversations; these few minutes we are having together every single day is helping them realize that there is more to reading than just going through the motions. That they deserve a great book. That they should demand for themselves to read incredible books and that that starts with knowing themselves better as a reader and also taking the time it sometimes takes to find their next read. So as the two weeks wind down for a few of the kids, some I am going to start seeing them every few days. Some I will continue to speak to every day, while some are ready for a trial period without me. New kids will be added, new goals will be set, new conversations await. And with that will come the continued reminder that all kids deserve our undivided attention, that all kids can have better relationships with reading, that all kids deserve to have outstanding reading experiences, even if they don’t know it yet. Some just need a little more attention to get (back) on the right path.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 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.   

Reading, Reading Identity

Creating an Action Plan to Jumpstart a Better Reading Experience

This is the form I use to keep track of my notes when I meet with students, to see the form, go to the update towards the end

Winter always hits us hard here in Wisconsin, and yet, this week, we broke records. It got so cold, everything shut down, the stores, the malls, the movies, even the bars shut their doors as the police told people to stay home. I spent three days by the fire playing games, reading books, laughing with my kids, and thinking so often about the other kids I have; the students I get to teach.

Because some of them are still not liking reading. Some of them still outright refuse. Some of them still go through the motions of what it may look like to read, but that spark, that change, that seed, doesn’t seem to have taken root, not yet.

And yet, there are many where the reading blossoms and continues to grow. Whose readerly lives seem to have taken on a life of its own. Who can tell you all about what it means to read, to be a reader. For them, I can breathe a little easier. For them, I can stay the course.

Yet for the ones who are not there yet, I need a new plan. Not one with more requirements or different reading “rules,” not one that veers off from our foundation: time, choice, access, community, and reflection. But instead a more concentrated approach. The check-ins I have with them every three or four weeks is not enough. They need a reading intervention, but not in the traditional sense. Instead, I am making them my action plan for the next few weeks to see if a concentrated boost is what they need.

So what I plan on doing, at least what I think I plan on doing, is simple – more attention, more conversation, more intentionality.

Step 1. Identify the kids who seem to be not there yet. Make a short list of those who need extra attention. Don’t forget about the rest of the class, but for the next few weeks; focus on these kids. I plan on focusing on no more than three a class.

Step 2. Pull a stack of irresistible books, these are the books that seem to have made a difference to kids in the past. Books like Monster, A Long Way Down, Hey Kiddo, and Boost. (I have a list going here).

Step 3. Start a conversation, I can use what I always use, “What are you working on as a reader?” However, I plan on each conversation lasting a little longer and centering around what I have noticed such as random book selections, little interest in what they are reading, and trying to figure out why. In my experience, students don’t always know why so this is where I can help a little with questions about their reading identity and their reading habits. What else can we uncover about their reading journey that can help them know themselves better and grow?

Step 3 1/2. Ask them how they can change their habits of reading. Help them uncover what is holding them back from reading, even if it is a lack of desire and discuss which habits can be altered to change their experience. Is it that they need a book at school and at home? Is it that they have yet to find a book they like but aren’t really looking? Is it that they are overwhelmed? Or that it seems pointless? What is it that is making them choose to not transform their reading experience?

Step 4. Help them set a mini-goal for the next week of reading. While all students have a year-long goal, for some kids year-long goals don’t seem very urgent, so focusing on a small success is more tangible and also more pressing. Discuss how they will hold themselves accountable, and let them know that I plan on checking in with them each day to see how they are doing, not in a judgmental way but as a coach and pep-talker. Have them write the goal down, I also plan on writing the goal down or I will not remember the specifics.

Step 5. Book shop together and enlist the help of a friend if they want. Pull out the stack of irresistible books and see if their friend has any suggestions. Give them time to truly browse the books, not just rush through selecting one. Coach as needed, step away so they have room.

Step 6. Daily check-in. Once the book has been chosen, then the conversations continue. Ask about their goal progress, ask them how I can support, and keep kid watching. Is anything changing? Why or why not?

Step 7. At week’s end, do an official goal check-in. Did they meet their goal? Why or why not? What needs to change for the following week?

Step 8. Keep checking in until end of the second week. Then figure out if they are on a better path or not. If not, back to the drawing board. If they are, then pull back a bit and see how they do. Scale back the check-in and focus back on all kids (not that they were completely forgotten), but it is time to see if this changed any habits at all.

Step 9. Remember that success comes in small steps. Remind myself that it is not a failure if a child only kind of liked a book, rather than loved it. Most kids need more than one book to transform their thinking.

A simple plan that I am sharing, simply to hold myself accountable. I am excited to see what this focus in attention will do for our readers. Hopefully, it will help them, if not, then I will think of something else to try. After all, there are plenty of ideas out there being shared.

Update: I checked in with a few of my kids today and ended up creating this form to help me keep track of what we discussed. The form is a work in progress, just like the rest of my teaching. It was great to have a bit longer with a few kids as we got to discuss their books and their habits, I am excited about this process.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 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.   

conferences, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

Who Wants to Read it Next?

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As they sit and read, every day for ten or fifteen minutes as we get ready for the day, I sit next to a student and ask them a seemingly simple question; What are you working on as a reader? As we discuss their reading life, their habits, and their goals, I always end with another question. One that seems to give many of our students’ pause, “How can we support you?” This question shouldn’t be a hard one, after all, these kids are surrounded by adults who are here to help them grow and yet for many, it takes them a moment to realize what they need, or even what they can ask for.

But one answer comes up again and again. Recommend me books. Book recommendations! Keep doing those book talks. The little talks that we do as a community almost every single day are making one of the largest differences.

I can recommend books to our students because most of the books I read are meant to be read by children. While I sometimes do stare longingly at some of my Danish crime stories that I haven’t yet read, I know that one of the biggest gifts I can give our students is a passport into the library, both the one in our classroom and the one that sits in the middle of our school. And that happens through a book talk, demystifying all of the books staring at them and making them look like journeys waiting to happen rather than insurmountable mountains.

By recommending books I have read, by other adults in the building recommending books, by students recommending books in our 30-second book talks, we are laying the foundation for a community that discusses their reading life openly. We are strengthening the notion that reading is something we all need. Something we all believe in as a way to build community. We are chipping away at the notion that some middle schoolers carry that reading is not cool or a waste of time. Instead through every recommendation, through every book held high over our heads, through every title suggested, we are laying the foundation for a readerly life. One that will hopefully expand beyond our years together, beyond this building.

And it is making a difference. Kids model the way we talk about books. Kids write down titles and then speak books to one another. Their to-be-read lists grow sometimes to delightfully impossible lengths.

So when a child reminds me once again that what they need from me is more book recommendations, it is a task I will gladly carry out. And one that I will gladly share with others. After all, they need as many books in their life as possible. They need as many book people as in their life as possible. They need as many happy reading moments as possible. And all of this can start with a simple book recommendation, a short book talk, and then another question; who wants to read it next?

To see what I am reading and recommending, follow me on Instagram

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 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.    

being me, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Book Quantity and the Damage It Can (Sometimes) Do

Note: This post is a personal reflection with more questions than answers. In no way is this post meant to be used as a way to to argue for lowering expectations for kids when it comes to increasing reading quantity. The research shows us again and again that access to great books and the time to read them in both supported and unsupported ways is what creates reading success. Both of these are also privileges and not something that all kids, still, despite the numerous years of research have access to as Donalyn Miller reminded me of. What this post is meant to highlight and discuss is when we teach kids who have access to books and set incredibly high goals that then destroy their reading experience. That change their reading experience into one that chases only books as a point, a notch, or a number, rather than helps support their development as readers who experience books.

Today our students did a midyear reading goal reflection, a quick check to see whether or not their reading goal for the year should change. A quick check for them to take the pulse of their own reading life. It is always interesting to listen in as kids discover that they are either reading a lot more than they thought or need to step it up a bit to make their challenge goal of reading at least 25 books in 7th grade. For some 25 books is not a big deal, for others it is a mountain that they are steadily climbing, slowly putting one foot in front of the other as they find yet another book to hook them to a readerly life. They know there is no punishment for not meeting their goal. They know it is meant as a motivator for them to increase their reading. It has taken several years and different iterations for us to reach a reading challenge that seems to be successful for nearly all. And today, was a day to check in on that challenge.

As I meander by the students, a girl asks me how I am doing with my reading goal; 105 books? They like to check in now and then to see if I am staying on track, even if it is just to marvel at the goal itself. 105 books?! Who in the world can read that many books? She is trying to keep up with me but she is only at 30. I quickly tell her that one of the things I am also working on is slowing down when I read and yet the look she offers me tells me of her disbelief. After all, if my goal is to slow down then how come I am trying to read so many books?

Today, that look really hit me. I usually shrug it off, it is not the first time a student stares at me in disbelief, but today amidst the slowness of the day it gave me pause. Why is my goal so high? Why am I trying to read so many books? I don’t need to impress anyone. I am not in competition with anyone. Sure I love to recommend books but I am not the only one capable of doing so. What started as 80 books a year five years ago only keeps growing and to what end? Why the need for the high number, when 70 or even 50 would suffice?

And so I sit tonight realizing the danger of my own reading goal. Of setting it as a quantity one rather than one that calls for me to challenge myself. With this goal of 105 chapter books for the school year, I am falling into the same old habits as our students do when we focus on speed versus quality; picking shorter books, skimming texts, forcing myself to read even though my heart is not in it. With the increase in quantity comes a seemingly decrease in enjoyment. Reading is now a task in order to reach my goal, rather than something I do to relax. My to-be-read bookshelf is now work waiting for me to complete rather than adventures beckoning me to join them.

I see this happen with students too who for some reason believe that high quantities of books mean that they are automatically stronger readers. For some of my kids who set goals of hundreds of books in a year who seem to be missing most of what they are reading. Now, don’t get me wrong, research, of course, shows the positive correlation between reading large quantities of texts and being a better reader, but at what point for some kids and even for some adults does it become detrimental rather than good? At what point does the hurried race after too high of a goal in order to impress encourage students to skim read, to skip pages, to develop poor reading habits rather than lose themselves in the experience? Instead of setting a goal that challenges them in a new way? How do we balance the need for students to read more, which many need, but also to read well?

There is a balance, of course, that sometimes gets lost in the school shuffle where kids’ reading lives are made into contests through public book challenge displays, leaderboards, and reading scores. Where it often matters more how much you read versus what you read and what you get out of it. Where students are celebrated for reading quickly, even if they didn’t fully get the chance to actually appreciate what they read. Yes, quantity, and increasing quantity and access to great reading material matters for all of us, but so does slowing down, savoring text, and actually enjoying the experience. This is how we help students become or remain the types of people who cannot wait to read for fun. Where is the balance?

So today as the students did their midyear goals, I changed my own. I don’t want to read 105 books this year. I want to read 80. 80 amazing books that I cannot wait to finish. 80 books that I cannot wait to share. 80 books that allow me to fall back in love with reading and see it for the great gift it is, not for the job it has become. And who knows, perhaps I will read more, but I am allowing myself to slow down. To sit with the books. And I cannot wait.

PS: It is not too late to join the winter book club study for Passionate Readers – it starts this Sunday. Come join the conversation with hundreds of other educators as we try to create reading experiences for all of the kids we have. Also, I am currently planning my summer speaking schedule, see this page for more information if you would like me to help reach your vision for creating a school experience where students are empowered and engaged.

parents, Reading

Parents: Creating Joyful Reading Routines at Home

We sit together with a book between us carefully piecing the words together. Sometimes they come haltingly. Sometimes they flow. Learning to read is hard work, but loving to read is not, not right now, not for most of our kids. We are a household of readers, all on a separate journey. All growing, exploring and learning, some more quickly than others. I am one of several bookworms in our household with books wherever we go, with a to-be-read pile bigger than we have hours in the day. We are a household of readers, and yet, even for us, in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we haven’t done much reading lately. Not planned anyway, I know we cannot be alone.

So how do we keep reading front and center, even when life gets really busy? How do we try to create joyful reading experiences at home? It turns out, that many of the same things we do in our classrooms to create passionate readers also work at home.

Flood your home with books if possible. To be readers we need things to read. There has been a lot of research on the harmful effects of students living in book deserts and what the unintended consequences are when kids don’t have access to books. This is why book ownership is so important, kids who own books are 15 times more likely to read above the level they are expected to be at according to the National Literacy Trust. And more importantly, it sets the tone; reading is valued at home, reading is something we believe in by spending our money or procuring reading material somehow. However, this is also an equity issue, it is easy for someone to say; buy books for your kids, but if you don’t have disposable income, then that can become a challenge. Yet, finding books and other reading material for kids to have where they live is vital in creating readers. So if you have the money; buy books and other reading materials. If you do not, reach out to your child’s school, visit a little free library if possible, visit a public library if possible, or get connected with a book charity. Here in Madison, we have the Madison Reading Project whose mission is to get books in the hands of kids – what do you have where you live? (A great book to read on book access and how it helps students become readers is the book Game Changer – Book Access for All Kids by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp).

Leave reading materials everywhere. We have books everywhere at our house, which is a privilege in itself. Books are in our kitchen, bathroom, living rooms, cars, and, of course, bedrooms. But not just books, magazines, newspapers and other fun things to read. Lately, we have been loving MAD magazine which I grew up on in Denmark. Our kids gravitate toward the books, picture books and everything else because they are visible. So if you can leave books wherever your kids are: the car, the bathroom, the living room, their rooms.   If you do not have access to a lot of books ask their school for help, scour garage sales, or visit the library if possible.

Sneak in more reading. Because we remind our kids to bring books in the car, to family gatherings, to appointments, grocery shopping, and yes, even sometimes to lunch, we sneak in a lot of reading. Our kids don’t sit on iPads or phones on a regular basis, they sit with books. In fact, this has been one of aha moments, every time we pull out our phone to check Reddit (#ThereWasAnAttempt) or other social media, we could be pulling out a book. I am often asked how I read so much in a year, this is one of the ways. While we love sitting down for long chunks of time to read, there is a lot of value in the minutes that can be snuck in, and those minutes add up.

Create a reading routine.  One of the biggest things I discuss with those at home is to find a routine for reading and not leaving it to chance.  Is it that everybody reads before getting out of bed? Is it the last thing that happens at the end of the day? Find a time, space, and then make it an expectation. We have the kids read after school with us when I get home, on the weekends we have them read before TV. This isn’t because it is a punishment but because it shows importance. Create a drop-everything-and-read time and then abide by your own decisions and join in with your own books, because we know that children who see adults read, read more themselves, thanks Stephen Krashen.

Read yourself. This is an often missed step where we, adults, claim that we do not have time to read. I cannot tell you how many parents have sheepishly admitted that they do not read themselves and then wonder how they can best help their own kids become readers. My advice always; read with your kids. Go on your own quest to find incredible books. Abandon books that don’t work. Set yourself up to have incredible reading experiences just like you would hope your kid(s) would. Be a reading role model because kids need to see what real adult reading looks like. Read in front of them. While Brandon, my husband, has been a slow convert to reading for pleasure, he has been very deliberate in sharing his reading journey with our kids. I think it is incredibly powerful for kids to see their parents or caregivers start to embrace reading for pleasure finally as adults.

Visit places where books are present.  Build visits into the library, bookstores or even friends’ houses where there are books visible into your reading lives.  Seeing books within reach often entices reading and there is something about the promise of a brand-new crisp book that cannot help but be exciting.  And browse online as well. What are people sharing on the #BookADay thread? Which books are being shared on Instagram under hashtags like the one I use (#pernillerecommends)?

Give books. Despite the abundance of books that our kids already have we still give books at Christmas and birthdays. We make it a big deal; which book do you wish for? What is the one special book you would love right now? We go to the bookstore so they can browse and then we secretly buy them the book only to be wrapped and handed as a gift. We also have book giving traditions in our family, on lille juleaften (Little Christmas Eve) we host our family at our house for aebleskiver and instead of a nameplate, each guest is gifted with a brand-new book handpicked for them. And yes, even I get books. This year I was lucke enough to get Becoming and Art Matters (Signed by Neil Gaiman – argh!) as well as a few others.

Build excitement through book shopping. Go book shopping with your kids at your local bookstore, browse the displays at the library, look up the bestseller lists to see what is hot in literature right now, order from the book catalog that comes home (i get as excited as the kids).  Countdown the days together for that sequel or an amazing new book to be released, order it if you can or go to the bookstore on its release date. Build excitement for the act of reading together much like you would the release of a movie. If you need ideas for release dates, see Mr. Schu’s calendar of book releases.

Have your own to-be-read list.  I get super excited when new books show up or when we go to a bookstore together and my kids know that my to-be-read pile (or bookshelf because let’s be honest here…) is a neverending quest of great reading experiences waiting to happen. They see how big it gets, they see how I have piles in different places, I discuss how I pick a book at times if it comes up and I encourage them to have their own. What will they be reading next?

Embrace audiobooks.  We do a lot of driving as I travel to speak and as we visit others, so audiobooks from the local library are a constant companion. The kids select the text or we do when we know a book may be a great discussion for our family. This is also a great way to start conversations about social justice topics, such as when we listened to George by Alex Gino and we discussed gender identity, yes, even with our youngest.  Overall, audiobooks cut down on our kids arguing, creates conversation, and become a part of our reading memories.

Embrace real choice.  So your child wants to read the same book all the time?  Ok. So your child wants to read super “easy” books all the time?  Ok. So your child wants to read only one type of book all the time?  Ok. Reading at home is for great reading experiences, for having fun with your reading, for keeping the joy of reading alive.  We can recommend, we can purchase, we can entice, but I would never force certain texts on kids. I have seen too many kids stop their reading or fake it because of forced choice, usually through the eagerness of parents to share their favorite classic texts with their kids. While I love the sentiment of that, I am not always sure it is done well and can end up doing more harm than good. Perhaps, our focus instead should be to discover new classics instead such as The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo or The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

Be invested and interested.  Ask genuine questions about their reading experiences.  Share your own. Embrace your reading slumps together and do something about them together.  Ask questions about what they plan on reading, whether they like the book or not, or what made them pick that book.  Keep it light but keep it constant.

Keep it joyful.  When kids come home from school, they are often tired and ready to do everything but read. I get it, after being at a conference all day or even teaching, reading is pretty far from my mind as well. We often lose readers at home because we see it as one more thing to do, rather than an experience waiting to happen. So keep it light, keep it fun.  Don’t assign journal prompts or summaries to go with it. Don’t make it homework, but instead revel in the joyful experience that reading a great book can be. Read aloud to your kids, even if they are older, this is one of the things many students report they miss the most with their parents. Celebrate new books, celebrate finishing books, celebrate abandoning books.

Fight for your child’s rights as a reader. While this will inevitably be a whole other post one of these days, I think it is vital, that we as parents/caregivers know what is happening to our children in their reading instruction at school. What are they making kids DO as readers? And what is that work DOING to your child as a reader? I can tell you that there are not many swords I care to fall on as “that” parent but reading logs and computerized programs to teach kids reading are two such swords. I have seen the damage done, and I refuse to sit idly by while decisions implemented at school harm our children’s reading lives, So know what their instruction looks like and what they are expected to do. Become an advocate for change if you need to or become an advocate for those who are using best practices, they often need our support as well. Don’t just trust schools to make the best instructional decisions, this is not always the case.

There is so much we can do to support our children as readers, and while it may seem like a lot of work, it isn’t. It is a chance for us to sit down with our kids, with something to read, and to create memories. But it starts with routines. With decisions that will support and not hinder. And with being readers ourselves.

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, Reading, Student-Led

Partner Feedback Groups – A Tip for Better Book Clubs

In room 235D, we have been immersed in our dystopian book clubs.  These past two weeks kids have been quietly reading, and loving, their self-chosen texts, using strategies that they have been taught previously, as well as the ones introduced each day, to gain a deeper understanding of the text.  Navigating these books as they try to figure out how they will discuss what they have uncovered, how they will prepare for their own student-led discussions.    Every day, these kids and their thoughts are reaching new heights.  Each day, we get to sit and listen to them discuss without dictated questions, without packets, without us constantly holding their hand.  It is a brilliant thing to see.  

While we have loved seeing the growth in student discussions every year, we wanted to give students another chance to learn from each other and to also be exposed to great conversations.  Enter my brilliant colleague, Reidun, who came up with the following idea and template.  Introducing the partner feedback groups.

The idea is simple:  Students are matched up with a partner group.  Every time the group discusses, the partner group gives feedback to them using the following form.

The sheet is printed and handed to each student

We introduced this tool individually with each discussion group rather than as a group fishbowl.  This was for time’s sake and also helped everyone ask questions and ward off confusion.  While all kids give feedback, not all groups are matched, only because some groups have expressed anxiety over the extra audience and we wanted to respect that.  we are hoping that in the spring when we do our next round of book groups, all groups will be ready to be matched.

Each child is assigned the same person to follow and they take turns coaching each other.  They are not evaluating, but merely paying attention to what is actually happening in the conversation.  It works quite easily.  Let’s say Sam is evaluating Marcus.  Every time Marcus adds to the conversation, depending on what is said, she gives him a tally mark.  So if Markus brings up a new idea to discuss – i.e. the main character fits the villain archetype – she would put a tally in the “Brought up a new idea” box.  She could also write “Villain archetype” under specific example.  She categorizes everything Markus says in order to give him feedback at the end.

Once the discussion is over, they usually last between 10 and 15 minutes, I ask the discussion group, “What went well?”  After they reflect on this, then I ask them, “What do you need to work on? ”  They reflect on that and then it is their partner’s turn to give them feedback.  In our example of Sam and Marcus, she may let him know that while he did well in bringing up new ideas and also responding to other people, he didn’t use a lot of text evidence to back up his thinking.  This is then something he can work on for the following discussion.  After each feedback partner has gone, they are dismissed so that I can speak privately with their group about their actual evaluation.

What we have noticed since implementing this last week is the keen observational skills of our students.  They notice things that we miss and also have been providing spot-on coaching tips.  Just today a student stated how impressed she was with the growth of the member since the last discussion and all of the things she noticed they had worked on.  This tool is offering our students a way to give each other feedback that is constructive and without judgment.  They are merely stating their observations, not offering up a grade.  

In the long run, we hope this help students become better givers of valid and productive feedback.  For many years we have been stuck in a rut when it comes to kids helping each other grow more pointedly.  They often say that things are great when really they need work or simply don’t know what to say.  This little tool has helped them focus on what the tangible skills are and how they can be improved while also providing them with models of effective discussions.  An added bonus has been the excitement over each other’s books as well, and how some kids now want to read the books that other groups are reading.

So there you have, a small idea, shared by a great friend and colleague that has been making a difference in our book club discussions.  To see what else w do to make our book clubs better, go here.

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.