Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Independent Reading Myth #3--Students won't read in class...{Teach}

Myth #3--Students won't read in class if I give them time.

This is the #1 management issue I hear from teachers and that I've faced myself.  For some reason they think when I say, "reading time starts now," its code to begin whispering to one another, working on homework for another class, sleeping, or not-so-covertly texting.  

My first question for a teacher who comes to me with this concern is, what are you doing during SSR?  Nine times out of ten the teacher "borrows" a few minutes to take attendance, check her email, or enter those last few grades for the essays she stayed up well past midnight to grade;  I'm guilty of all of the above.  

Stop it!  When you stop everything that you are doing to read it sends a powerful and unforgettable message that reading is so invaluable nothing is to interrupt it, not even your own perceived needs.  This was probably the most difficult part for me.  I am a perpetual multi-tasker.  But, oh!  The freedom from trying to do so much revitalized my reading life. 

When all of the above fails,  I have to ask, how are you helping match your most tangled readers with an appropriate text to spark their interest?  We'll spend more time on this learned talent later, but until then here are just a few pieces to the machinery of my reading community.

  •  Book Talks--Talk about what you are reading.  What do you say to your friends when you are excited about a book you can't pull yourself away from?  You don't spill the entire plot, right?  Rather, you give them just enough so they want to snatch it up as soon as you are finished.  This is the perfect opportunity to model what real readers do as they share their reading experiences.  Also, it's an opportune time to sneak in a mini-lesson (very mini) about previewing and predicting texts.  Book talks work especially well at the beginning of SSR.  I'm very purposeful with my booktalks.  Sometimes, it's a book I've chosen for a reluctant or stalled reader, knowing he or she will be the first ask for it.  And other times the book might have a thematic link to our shared reading;  my more sophisticated readers understand the magic that can occur when you begin to read for themes across genres and across books.  If you're still unsure what to say, read the cover.  Publishers usually do a pretty good job o inviting readers to try the book on. 
  • Read-Aloud--I fight hard to preserve my read aloud time.  This is also a good practice to begin SSR with.  During read aloud, you are reading and the students are listening.  That's it.  Period.  I begin read aloud by reminding my students of the purpose--listen to enjoy.  Read alouds can be editorials or articles, cartoons, excerpts from novels, picture books, or entire novels.  One of my favorite read aloud experiences was with a little book called Same Kind of Different As Me.  Written by two Fort Worthers, this precious story describes the unlikely relationship between an entrepreneur, his terminally ill wife, and a homeless felon and how they learned that it's not the differences that matter, but the sameness.  Choose texts that are pleasing to hear, good strong story arcs or structure, and challenge the reader just enough to help build an understanding of structure and vocabulary.  At the end of a read aloud, don't start in with twenty questions over plot, character, support, or theme.  Invite students to respond however they need to with a simple, "what sticks with you?" 
  • Excerpts-  I love to be sneaky and bring in an especially enticing YA excerpt to pair with traditional literature.  Some of my favorites include Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak paired with The Scarlet Letter, Gordan Korman's Jake, Reinvented with The Great Gatsby,  Sharon Draper's Romiette and Julio with Romeo and Juliet, just to name a few.  The excerpts are used not only to draw connections between texts, but also as vehicles for many litearcy skills.  I find that examining the isolation and social-outasts from the perspective of a 15-year old freshmen is a little more approachable than through Hester Prynne.  Inevitably, some reader will ask to check out the entire book once we spend part of  a day exploring a snippet.  Excerpts also make for terrific mentor texts during writer's workshop as well. 
  • Conferences-  I've already discussed the power of talking to your readers about what you read.  Talking to them about what and how they read is as equally important.  I'm not talking about asking them to provide you with a five sentence summary, analyze the intrinsic motivation of the character, or expound on the symbollic or thematic elements.  The kind of transformative talk that makes readers grows organically from a student's reading experience, how he or she relates to the text.  Conferences, one-on-one or small group discussions with readers, allow this transaction to come to the surface.  Tangled and alliterate readers may not have recent experience with a text that invited them to make their own meaning.  Their experiences stem from teacher-selected reading tasks and purposes.  Again, I like to start with a simple question, "What sticks with you?"  From there, with some probing and modeling, I allow the conference to take its natural shape.  Not only can I judge whether or not a book is a good match for a reader, but I can facilitate a deeper reading experience and recommend subsequent titles. 

Any new practice takes time to adapt.  Most of your average 17-year olds have very vague recollections of choosing a book AND being given time in class to read it.  Some have no memory of such a practice as they were probably never given that freedom.  Sad, I know.  And so it's going to take some time.  In the fall we are warming up, building those reading muscles, forming good habits as readers, exploring our own reading interests and styles.  Sometime before Christmas my new readers might finish the first book they have ever read by themselves that they chose.  Between New Year's and Spring Break everyone is exploring their reading identities.  And in the spring, we all sit back and marvel at the transformation.  Just remember, for some of your readers, one or two books is a success. 

Still unsure or need more convincing?  Check out some of these resources:

Teri Lesesne's Making the Match

Kelly Gallagher's Readicide

Penny Kittle's Book Love (coming fall 2012)

Janet Allen's Yellow Brick Roads

How are you able to facilitate a reading community that reads together?

Happy reading!



Friday, May 25, 2012

Independent Reading Myth #2--I have to know a lot about YA literature {Teach}

Myth #2--I have to know a lot about YA literature.

Let's face it; we can't all be Book Whisperers (nod to esteemed colleague and friend Donalyn Miller).  The life of an English teacher usually involves hours bent over essays or perusing the same classical text we've taught for the umpteenth time.  When am I supposed to have time to read something for fun let alone books for teens?    

I don't expect every high school teacher to be a card carrying member of the American Library Association, dedicated to each new issue of School Library Journal.  When I first introduced independent reading or Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) into my classroom routine, I had a grand total of 15 books sitting on the shelf,  five of which were in the Harry Potter series.  

It doesn't matter where you start as long as you start somewhere.  I don't care if it's The Hunger Games or even Twilight.  If your students start to see you as a reader, then they will begin to see that reading has value.

You may not know much about YA when you begin, but by the end of the first month you will have more book recommendations from students, blogs, and your librarian then you know where to make your reading piles.  Until then, here are a few sites to feed your new-found literary habit:

1)  Goodreads.com--a social site that allows users to build shelves (to-be read, reading, read) and organize their reading lists, browe new titles, connect with readers and authors, and rate and review their books. 

2) Teachmentortexts.com--a blog by two teachers who are devoted to sharing books they read that promote all areas of literacy.  The books are reviewed and can be filtered by literacy strand that the bloggers see an opportunity for classroom use as a mentor text.  Using current, exciting young adult literature to teach literacy!  How novel!

3)  YouTube--A simple search for "young adult book trailers" will produce gobs and gobs of professional and fan-made book trailers.  Bre sure to preview trailers before showing them to kids as the quality and content may not always be suitable for classroom use.

4)  Barnes and Noble/ Amazon--both bookseller's sites have a section for young adult literature, recommendations, reviews, and lists.  Warning:  do not auto-fill your credit card info before browsing as purchasing all the wonderful titles you find becomes very addicting and "just one more book" becomes two boxes full of hardbacks delivered by your local FedEx truck!

5)  Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)--www.ala.org/yalsa  A division of ALA devoted to young adult teachers, librarians, and readers, this organization provides several useful top ten lists compiled by teens themselves.

6)  Figment.com--Here we have another social media site where users can be readers and writers.  There are forums for writers to publish their own work on the site and to browse other user's writings.  On the reading side, Figment posts latest book news, trailers, author interviews, and reviews. 

A thriving reading community is dependent upon authentic reading role-models.  As the facilitator of the community, the time that you invest in reading in front of your kids and talking about what you are raeding, the more gains you will see in their level of interest. 

I may never be the kind of reader I imagine in my head; I read much more slowly than some might imagine.  Unlike my colleagues, I can't race through a 400-page novel in one Sunday afternoon.  I don't know if I'll ever read ALL of the Newbery books or complete a hundred book challenge.  But, I do know that if I never try, then not only will I never be that reader, but neither will my students. 

How did you make that reading leap?  What book re-invented you as a reader?


Happy reading!



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Insurgent by Veronica Roth {Read}

Originally written for nerdybookclub.wordpress.com on May 23rd, 2012
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love (Goodreads.com). What would you choose if you only had one choice:  bravery, honesty, selflessness, knowledge, or peace?  If all of your actions, your relationships, your being were to be determined by only one of these traits, what would be your choice?? 
The futuristic society of Veronica Roth’s Divergent has determined that the one way to combat the darkness of human nature is to divide itself into five factions, each faction devoted to one of the pre-determined necessary human qualities. Sixteen-year old Beatrice (Tris) Prior’s journey begins with a choosing ceremony.  (Sound familiar?) Unlike her peers, Tris has a much broader spectrum of who she could become.  Her choice takes her to a foreign world on the other side of the tracks in downtown Chicago where there’s a fine line between bravery and bullying, courage and cowardice. 
Suddenly, she finds herself at the center of a social and political civil war.  As Divergent closes we find ourselves speeding away on a train through the heart of Chicago seeking sanctuary from those who once stood by Tris, protected her,  glowing in the warmth of her new-found relationship with fellow Dauntless, Four,  and  suspended as  she yearns for redemption from her overwhelming guilt.
Insurgent is a remarkable exploration of human nature and motivation.  It’s an experiment in societal reform.  When society has so divided itself that it can no longer function as a cohesive organism what happens to those who have been abused and their abusers?     As the consequences of her fatal choice in Divergent fall like dominoes, faster than she can process, her dearest relationships are endangered;  her self-searching and determination to understand the truth about who she is at the foreground of a crumbling societey. 
True to many other “seconds” in a series, I found myself spending a painful amount of time teetering at the edge of our hero’s abyss.   In the first installation, we walk with Beatrice through the threshold (Divergent fans recall Tris catapulting herself from a rooftop) as she finds a loyal band of followers and undergoes a series of tests and trials as part of her initiation.  Once her quest is determined in Insurgent, other figures emerge as part of the dystopian landscape: the evil figure with the untimely good heart, the temptress, even death and rebirth.  As her plunge into the abyss drawers nearer, she must go deeper and deeper into her most fearsome landscape-- her own soul-- in order to proceed with her journey of self-discovery.
It is impossible to ignore the similarities between Tris Prior, Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Todd Hewitt, Cassia Reyes and countless other YA sci-fi/ fantasy heroes, teens teetering at the edge of their own awakening to their true powers.  Every one of their societies is fighting to analyze, sort, and label who they will become.  The societies and settings, too, bare familiarities leading me to believe that Gale or Katniss will suddenly appear, running alongside the train with Four and the other Dauntless.  I hear Manchee’s searching “Todd?” from under some discarded street rubble.  At any moment, I expect Hermione to pop out of the Erudite crowd, toting a long lost volume that holds the key to what really lies outside of the fence. 
And so, as I sprinted through the final chapter and the shadows on the wall were revealed to me as they are revealed during the jaw-dropping finale, I couldn’t help but wonder …Why are we so drawn to adolescent heroes who are standing on a precipice, waiting and daring to take such a leap, whether it be bravery or curiosity that compels them?
 There is no denying the sudden rise in popularity of dystopian literature.  A recent Goodreads blog examined the growing trend in popularity of dystopian novels and described its over-arching themes over the last 50 years.  The blogger labels this latest explosion (The Hunger Games, Matched, Diverent) as “Romance” Dystopian and sites such inspirations as 9/11, War on Terrorism, and the prevalence of pop culture.  Tough heroines and anti-conformity drive these stories. 
After reading Divergent and now Insurgent, I am taken back to an Erudite’s explanation,
“Insurgent,” he says.  “Noun.  A person who acts in opposition to the established authority, who is not necessarily regarded as a belligerent. “ 
Do I hear anti-conformity?  Oh , yes.  But I think it extends beyond being radical, to being purposeful.  In a futuristic society where every member knows his or her purpose as it is handed down to him or her, where does that leave free-will?  As a constructivist, this resonates with me.  As information is funneled into our teens (as it so often is at many bytes per minute), they are persistently bombarded with labels, categories, and profiles, what choices then are left to them to determine what their truth is? 
Are we--all of us as educators, librarians, readers--not all insurgent, seeking truth for ourselves and then deciding how we will assimilate that truth into who we are and what motivates us?
Are teens devouring dystopian literature for their love triangles and star-crossed lovers?  Yes, probably.  But, are they also entering a landscape of their own fears, beliefs, doubts, and dreams in order to choose what they will take with them as they emerge from their own abyss and cross the impending threshold into adulthood?  Absolutely!
Official book trailer:
This is Audrey’s second post for Nerdy Book ClubShe is still the mother of a fantastic, nerdy little boy who can read Tigger over and over again, ready to wave “bye-bye” on the last page every time.  She is still an advocate of creating brilliant reading communities that allow for choice, identity, and risk-taking in the high school classroom.  And she is now and forever, insurgent.   Follow her blog at www.readwriteteachlearn.blogspot.com. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Independent Reading Myth #1--Today's teenagers don't read {Teach}

Myth #1--Today's teenagers don't read.

There is a heavily engraved image of today's youth, earbuds as an extension of their actual bodies, thumbs glued to their smart phones.  No where do we see books in their hands.  Today's youth is uninterested in the simple pleasure of reading.  He would rather be figuring out how to advance to the next level of Halo XXIII or updating his Facebook status about what he ate for dinner.  Not only is he uninterested in the simplicity of the printed word, he doesn't have the attention span for it.

On the contrary, according to the NEA's 2008 report, Reading on the Rise, young adults represent the fastest growing subpopulation that have significantly increased their reading habits.  Literary reading as a whole has reversed its downward spiral over the past two decades, increasing by 7% between 2002-2008.  Young adults, who on the last survey showed the steepest decline in 2002 have grown by 9 points, rising fastest out of the whole survey population.  In 2008, 51% of young adults reported that they read novels, short stories, poems, and plays either in print or online. 

The reality is that today's teens are reading and reading in droves!  Thanks to the popularity of recent blockbuster adaptations of YA series, these exciting and relevant stories are coming into mainstream.  In fact, there is even a movement to include a book award in Fox's Teen Choice Awards.  YA author Jennifer Donnelly has been an advocate of this movement from the beginning.  I can see it now--Veronica Roth's Divergent up there next to Lil Wayne and Lady Gaga.

Teens are flocking to stories with strong heroines and nerdy book smart boys.  They are stalking authors like John Greene and Stephanie Meyer with more gusto than any film or radio star.

How do I know this?  Because I talk to them about it. I ask them what they've read or who their favorite author is.  I ask them about how they choose books and who among their friends shares the same taste in books as they do.  I ask them what makes a book great and then dangle carrots of curiousity in front of their noses, hoping to lead to discover yet another awesome YA novel.

Then why can't we seem them doing it? Many of them are reading covertly.  Sadly, in their daily lives reading may not be valued.  Perhaps none of their teachers talk to them about reading for pleasure or even give them time to read something of their choice in class.  Devastating, I know.  Or for some, they are reading in plain view, right under your nose.  E-readers, apps, and digital media have connected a whole generation of "digital natives" to a new look at literary life.  They look like they are scrolling through Facebook?  Nope, they're flipping as fast as they can through The Summer I Turned Pretty.  Texting a friend?  Nope, they are updating their goodreads shelves and writing reviews of their favorites.

Perhaps it's not teens whose behaviors and perceptions need a major shift.  Perhaps it's how we perceive readers themselves and what they read that could use a little adjustment instead.  

Like to think about this a little more?  Check out some of these resources:

"The Young Adult Voice in Research About Young Adults" (YALSA)

"The Kids Books are Alright" (NY Times)

"American Reading Habits Studied"


Please share any resources you may have to contribute to this conversation!


Happy reading :-)





Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Myths Surrounding Independent Reading in High School {Teach}

Often, when I'm out visiting with teachers and consulting, I make the positive presupposition (Thank you Kathryn Kee! ) that teachers are having their students read a text of their choice everyday.  I might make such comments as, "This would be an easy strategy to integrate into students' independent response time during their free reading time in class."  Or, "When you book-talk to your students, you might frame it in terms of genre..."
Sometimes I receive polite head-nods and sometimes I receive eye-rolling.  Independent reading time in a high school English classroom?  (And unicorns poop rainbows.)
Every now and then, I'm greatful for the honest and inquisitive participant who timidly raises her hand to ask, "What exactly do you mean by 'independent reading'?"  She is usually within her first 5 years of teaching,  graduated from a stellar English literature/ composition program, and is the dark horse of the English department who spends her time reading things like  English Journal or following Jim Burke on Twitter.
When these gems come my way, I leap at the opportunity to unravel some perpetuative myths that exist in high school English departments and their most faithful faculty regarding independent reading.  These conversations allow me to dig down to my most fervent beliefs about reading communities and often do challenge some of those beliefs.  But, by the end of our conversation, whereas we may not still agree with one another, both the participant and myself have expanded our views just a little bit broader.
And so, here they are!  The top 5 most common myths surrounding independent reading in high school:
Myth #1--Today's teenagers don't read.
Myth #2--I have to know a lot about YA literature.
Myth #3--Students won't read in class if I give them time.
Myth #4--It'll mean more time spent on grading poster and book reports or messing with those leveled reading programs.
Myth #5--I don't have the time.  We have all this literature we have to "cover."
Boiling down all of the-- honestly-- valid obstacles to independent reading I have encountered myself and heard from colleagues to these five things is probably oversimplifying the issue.  If I've learned anything about problem solving as an educator, it's that I need to start with what seems simple first.  Then, as I work my way through one problem at a time, the larger obstacle doesn't feel quite so overwhelming.
As a novice teacher, the five statements above floated above my head as I began to dig more into the possibility I knew was there for amazing reading experiences for myself and my students.  Please understand, I am not trying to be-little anyone's experience or perspective.  The following "myths" I'll offer as a series of posts echo my deepest, darkest, and most powerful experiences along my own journey.
More importanlty than de-bunking these "myths,"  I hope to provide a snippet of success here and there and resources that I rely on to create a transformative, empowering reading community.
Happy reading!