Book Clubs – for the sake of reading together with choice

Prior to February vacation, one of my 7th grade classes finished up their book clubs. It’s the first time I’ve ran in-class book clubs. I wanted the format to be very loose and without roles. I’ve used literature circles in the past, but I never liked the idea of forced roles. Nor did I enjoy them myself in school. The main purpose of our book clubs was to read and discuss a book with a group of friends.

I pulled together the few books that I had multiple copies of, and bought a few myself. I wanted a wide range of genres and of course engaging reads. Students read over the choices and used a Google Form to tell me what their top three choices were. From this data, I created groups of 3-5 students each.

The plan was simple (and heavily influenced by this post by Pernille Ripp): Groups would figure out their pacing over the four weeks they had to read their books, how they would hold each other accountable, and then discuss their reading for no more than 10 minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We briefly discussed how to have a meaningful discussion and I provided a list of discussion ideas/topics if they were ever at a lose for what to talk about.

Over the four weeks, I learned that the biggest problem was students not reading or rather not being at the appropriate spot in their book to discuss with the other members. There were a number of reasons: sickness, absences, forgetting their books in school, or simply “I forgot”. In the end, I told the groups to figure it out. Sometimes that meant one group member would read outside quietly during discussion time. Yes they missed out on the discussion but they always caught up for the next one. I can’t expect perfection.

I did ask groups to answer some general questions about their books together. I’m not sure how I liked it. Some were surface-level questions others required deeper thinking. I don’t think I’ll use them next time. Rather, I want to focus on the questions that students have while reading.

Walking around each day, I heard mostly on-topic discussions. Again, I can’t expect perfection. I even told them off-topic discussions should happen as long as it starts from discussing the book.

After reading, groups created a 2-5 minute book-talk. They had complete choice over how with a lists of some discussion points (theme, a small summary, whether they liked it/disliked it and why). I was happy that every group decided to record a video, make a book trailer or put on a play. The process was messy, loud and sometimes off-topic, but it was enjoyable. I love seeing students up and about, working together and creating something.

Overall, I’m pleased with these loose book clubs. Most students asked to do them again. I’m glad we just jumped in rather than me trying to plan out every little step. Next time, I’ll provide a few more things such as discussion guidance and a more structured book-talk. They were much more enjoyable than lit circles. Only one group disliked their book, and maybe 2-3 students didn’t finish reading their books. It’s a lot better than forcing a whole class read that students fake their way through.

I can’t wait to implement book clubs in my other classes and go for round 2 with this particular class.

 

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Teaching Can Consume You

Early on in my student teaching, a veteran teacher told me to “be careful”. She said “this job can easily consume you and before you know it, you’ve wasted more time than you should have.” For a while, I kept that in the back of my mind. I approached with some caution. I quickly found out that teaching is much more than a full time job. There’s never enough time and always too much to do. It creates this feeling of inadequacy, never doing enough or being good enough.

Luckily, I’ve learned that these feelings are natural in education. We can’t do it all. Over the years, I’ve dedicated more and more time to becoming a better ELA teacher for my students. I’ve spent summers reading education books, young adult novels, articles/blogs from other educators, and even trying to gamify my class. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time trying to grow/learn, but is it too much time? Some nights I spend close to 3 hours on school related things, outside of school. I frequently return back to what that teacher told me almost 5 years ago. Am I letting this job consume me? Is it getting in the way of other things in my life?

For now, the answer is no. I thoroughly enjoy being an educator, more so than anything else in my life. We live in a world in which too many people dislike/hate their jobs. Whether they get into their career for the money or because of carelessness, most people get “stuck” doing something they don’t enjoy. I look forward to going into work every day. I look forward to creating learning experiences for my students and then trying them out.

So much of my prep as an ELA teacher involves reading books and sharing out to my students, or writing a story/poem/essay/etc and using it in class. I view my planning as a puzzle. How can I make class more engaging? How can I give students more choice? How can I make sure they are actually learning? How can I show they the importance of reading and writing? With time constraints and the unpredictable environment, things become frustrating at times. Some days, I want to quit and give up, but I don’t. I can’t. I’m an educator. I’m in a position to give back every single day. I’m able to learn with a group of awesome students for 180 (ish) days.

Student Reflections

I’ve told my students that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to appeal to every student, every single day. There will be some days they enjoy more than others. It’s natural. As I’m reading through their quarter 2 reflections, they’re showing me just how diverse they are.

I asked them for feedback about my teaching, what they enjoy most/least, what they wish we did more of/less of, and to describe this class to someone not in it. Just like quarter 1, this is some of the most meaningful feedback I receive. Sure some of it is random or I can tell a student didn’t put much thought into it but there are obvious patterns.

When asked what we should do more of/less of or what they liked/disliked, I’m noticing that for every student that wants more of something, there is another student that wants less of it. One student loves writing blog posts, while another hates it. As much as I’d love all the responses to be the same and say I love everything and dislike nothing, that would be boring and make things too easy.

As I continue to read, I realize just how important is it that I provide students with choice in now only how they learn but what they learn.

Sixteen drafts

I have sixteen drafts on my blog. Sixteen pieces of writing sitting there, waiting to be published. Sixteen pieces of writing I never finished. Sixteen pieces I gave up on. At least sixteen times I’ve gone to write something on my blog and I quit. I fell short. I stopped myself out of fear of reflecting publicly.

During one of my twitter sessions, I read about how blogging is for the writer, no one else. It’s reflecting. Rarely will others read what I’m writing. Yet, sixteen times I stopped because I was afraid of what others would think of my writing. Others that don’t even exist. It’s kind of sad.

No more. I’m publishing my reflections regardless of the quality. This is for my improvement.


I wrote that 2017 was my year of less. So far, I still try to do too much- or rather I’ve shifted from doing too much to worrying about doing too little.

I haven’t checked twitter in a few days.

Completely forgot about Voxer.

What blog?

Daily writing….right.

Sometimes when I’m driving my mind bounces from one thing to another that I “should” have done. It’s quite annoying but something that I’m learning to avoid. There will always be something that I can’t do, or that I forget to do. I can only do so much. It’s okay if I miss something.

2017. My Year of Less

 

If I were a character in a video game, under weaknesses in the character description it would say “Tries too much too fast”. Though I’m sure most of us have this problem.

Even though I know I can’t do it all, I still try. Sometime most educators can relate to. I need to let go of the idea that I’ll be able to do it all…..or at least keep reminding myself that I can’t.

My one little word for 2017 is less. Do less so I can focus on more.

As an educator, there’s so much I want to do or improve. Most of the time I try something new out of excitement. I’ll see something posted on Twitter or read it in an article/book and think “woah, this needs to happen”. Next thing I know I’m moving things around to try and fit this new thing in. Or I let doubt consume me and convince me that I need to change/improve some aspect of teaching right away.

This year I want to do less. I want to slow things down and focus more intently on improving certain aspects before moving to something new. While it’s good to try new things, its counterproductive to try too many things.

2017. My year of less.

Scrambled Thoughts and Blogging.

I just read a post on The Paper Graders about unfinished thoughts by Jay Scott. He mentions having multiple unfinished blog posts. He calls them unfinished thoughts and continues to write:

“Maybe that’s how it is sometime. Lots of things flitting through out minds with little or no focus. Glimpses of one thing or another. My teaching right now is similar. Trying lots of different things. Experimenting. Searching for bits that have clarity or focus.”

Thank you Jay. This is exactly my problem whenever I sit down to write a blog post. I have every intention of finishing, but my mind wanders and I have trouble focusing on one topic-or rather I start writing about one thing and it leads me elsewhere. A new discovery. I end up feeling discouraged, but really that’s what writing is about. Making discoveries.

What follows are some unfinished thoughts of my own.


The more that I read about NCTE 16, the more determined I am to make it to NCTE 17. I’m learning so much from reading all the blog posts and tweets from that weekend. I can’t imagine what it’s like to actually be there. Next year, I’ll find out.


Doubt. It creeps into my mind on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. It replaces my feeling of success with defeat. It feasts on the small gains I make in the classroom. It whispers in my ear when I’m trying to plan for the week, telling me I’m doing things all wrong.

Thankfully, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers blogging/writing/tweeting/sharing their experiences in the classroom. Every time I open my twitter feed or look through some blog posts, I am able to reassure myself that I’m doing well in my fourth year of teaching. I push doubt away and continue growing, learning and doing the best that I can for my students.


Independent reading and writing, something that leads to a love of the two, needs to be more widespread in education.

All students should have a choice in what they read and write about.

All students should have time to read and write without wondering what grade they’ll receive.

 

Developing lifelong readers and writers is more important than any ELA standard. I want kids to leave my classroom with a love for the two.


So much bounces around in my head on a daily basis, most of it revolves around education. I was told early on in my career that teaching can eat up most of your life if you’re not careful. I’m torn. Some days I think I spend too much time on my “job”. Other days I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love being a teacher. I love reading. I love writing. I love learning. I love helping others. I love that that being an educator allows me to bring so many of my passions together. Though, I do need to give enough time to the other parts of my life.

Patience is key.

You Need A Reading Book With You At All Times…

“You need a reading book with you at all times.” In the past, this was my way of ensuring kids were reading. A phrase I repeated all year. I’d show kids the library at the beginning of the year, help them find a book and then expected them to continue reading all year. No book talks, a measly classroom library, no self selected reading time, no reading conferences. It was a poor attempt on my part at fostering a love of reading in the classroom.

This year I’ve put a ton of energy into my approach. Much of what I do, I’ve learned from some awesome books: Hacking Literacy by Gerard Dawon, Book Love by Penny Kittle, Read Write Teach by Linda Rief and Reading Reasons by Kelly Gallagher. Here are a few things that have greatly improve my student’s reading.

Classroom Library: This is something that I overlooked in the past. I always counted on the school’s library instead. Having daily access to quality reading books is the first step towards fostering a love of reading. Over the summer I tried figuring out ways to build a library. I’ve spent a lot of time (and money) trying to build a library full of books worth reading. I’m extremely fortunate that the social studies teacher on my team has a library of her own with over 500 titles. Her classroom is connected to mine so the students and I have easy access.

Book Talks: In the past, I’ve talked about books before but I never truly gave a book talk. This year, I try to give one everyday. I briefly discuss the book with enthusiasm and read a selected passage aloud. I’ve skipped the read aloud a few times and it’s a night and day difference. I won’t give another book talk without selecting a passage beforehand.

I also keep a running list on my windows of the books I talk about and encourage students to write them down on their “want to read” lists. Eventually I’m going to hand over the talks to students.

Book Pass: Something I learned about from Gerard Dawson’s Hacking Literacy. I spread piles of books around the classroom, show students how to preview a book and then give them time to silently walk around and find some books worth reading. We did one of these on the first day of school and most students left the classroom with a few titles on their “want to read” lists. I try to do one every so often, especially when we get some new titles for our classroom library.

Daily Reading Time: We read for the first ten minutes of every class. In September, it was only 5 minutes. I wanted to ease them into it. Most of the time, I read as well. Some students use the time to check out new books. Starting in the second quarter, I will use this time to conference with students about their reading.

Reading Goals: Every student has a certain amount of pages to read each week. We set these goals the second week of school. This is something I learned about in Penny Kittle’s Book Love. It took some getting used to and it’s certainly not perfect but the kids seem to enjoy having a goal to meet/exceed each week. They track their pages read each day and enter it into a table that I pass around. These goals allow me to identify reluctant/struggling readers.

Reading Conferences: I’ve attempted to conference with students in the past, but it’s been difficult. Conferences are time consuming but necessary. So far, I’ve at least checked in with students to see how their enjoying a current book. It’s nice to just talk about a book with students. They also help me learn about new books worth reading. I plan on using conferences in the future for helping students with challenging books, identifying any reading problems and getting to know each student’s reading identity.

Overall, I’ve moved from saying “you need a reading book with you at all times” to showing my students a love of reading. I talk about books everyday. I remind them to abandon a book they aren’t enjoying and help them find a new one. Anytime a student finishes a book, I make sure they get a new one asap. Things are far from perfect, but perfection is not my goal. My goal is to show students a love of reading throughout the year in hopes that they will catch on and become lifelong readers.