The mobile teacher and her classroom library.

 

At my new school, we don’t have our own classrooms.
We know that providing students with a classroom library is essential to building their literacy skills.  Having easy access to high-interest books is the number one thing that has helped me promote choice reading.  So when I first found out that I wouldn’t have my “own” classroom, I worried about how I’d be able to provide classroom library access to all of my students.

Luckily, I spend half of my teaching day in the same classroom, the giant American Studies room, which also homes my giant classroom library.

These books are all organized by genre or category, helping students navigate on their own if I’m not immediately available to help.

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Our classroom library, before/after a book pass.

 

Classroom library on wheels.
My writing class meets in a different room, which is only a few doors down from the American Studies room, but it’s far enough away that the classroom library doesn’t feel like our classroom library.  Since many of my students don’t take American Studies, they’re a little nervous about walking into the room and interrupting a class to browse our books.

My school is very supportive of choice reading and helped me problem solve, purchasing a mobile bookshelf that I use to cart my book-talked books, new books, and most popular books with me into the writing lab.  Books are organized by category and genre on the cart too, and this moves back in the American Studies classroom with me in the afternoon.

But even though I have our most popular and talked about books on the mobile cart, I still find myself leaving the room to pull more recommendations from the larger, classroom library.  (Thankfully I have a paraprofessional in that class who can hold down the silent reading fort for the few minutes it takes!)

Being a “teacher on a cart” has made the implementation of a successful choice reading program a bit more challenging, but I’m navigating!  By  next year, I’ll be a champ.

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My bookmobile.

 

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Choosing a new book from a pile of instant recommendations

Why can’t students just use the school library?
The school library and the classroom library work together.  One is not better than the other…it’s just more access to books!

My students still use the school library to check out books!  Our librarian is awesome and really helpful.  But…most of the kids who go down to the learning commons to check out books already have an idea of what they want.

My classroom (or mobile) library is a place where I easily pull out ten books that I know a student will like.  I can support them through their struggle to find the right book.  Even though I’m still getting to know my students, I’m getting to know exactly what they want to read, and being able to instantly pile ten books on their desk that I think they’ll love couldn’t happen without my classroom library.

Hopefully, in a few months, those struggling readers will build confidence and author-interest to navigate our learning commons on their own.

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TL;DR:
Last summer, many teachers told me that it would be impossible to incorporate choice reading because they didn’t have a place to hold a classroom library.  It’s not impossible.  It’s difficult and takes creative thinking to provide immediate access to books, but it’s possible.  

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Getting started with choice reading.

book-passImplementing a successful choice reading program takes so much freaking work.
This year, since I’m teaching in a new school, it’s been even more work to get us started.

I’ve known quite a few teachers who give up on choice reading when they see that their students aren’t reading at home, or that they’re just abandoning books, over and over again.

We need to help our unmotivated readers find the books that they want to read.
They don’t know how.  That’s why they don’t read.   If every book you’d ever tried was too hard, or too boring, would you read for fun?  Me neither.

We need to read, too.
If you’re an English teacher who hasn’t read a book for pleasure since 1994, how the heck can you inform recommendations for students in 2016?  The first year that I implemented choice reading in my class, I read 85 books during the school year.  I read for ten minutes every night, and instead of killing time with my phone, I brought my choice book instead.  Because I read so much that year, and continue to read so much each year, I know exactly which books fit which students.

And guess what?  YA Lit is REALLY GOOD these days.

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Our first book pass in American Studies.

Getting started.
I don’t know this community or students as well as I did in my last school, which makes matching students and books a lot harder.  I started us off with book talks and a book pass in my writing elective right away, but it took us a bit longer to get started in my co-taught American Studies class.

Despite waiting a few weeks to kick-off choice reading in that class, students had already started noticing and perusing my bookshelf, anxiously asking when we’d start reading their “private books.”

(Side note: Isn’t “private books” the cutest term for “choice books” you’ve ever heard?  They came up with it, and I’m going with it.) 

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Our reading log.

We read for the first ten minutes of class.  I check in with them and monitor for understanding.  (Sometimes I model, but I usually don’t have time to!)

 

They do have a reading log, where they track their pages, but I don’t grade it.  It’s data for me to inform recommendations and conferences.

Some students have tested the waters and tried just not reading, but when they realize that I’m just going to keep suggesting book after book after book, and they see that I won’t give up…they keep trying new books.

Some students have already finished a book (or two!), and others have already abandoned a book or two.  But the best part?  They look forward to our reading time.  

After they finish a book, they don’t do a project.  They don’t write about their choice books.  We just celebrate their reading achievements with a high five and a link on a paper chain.

We read to get better at writing.  We read to get better at reading.  We read to build competency in reading the things we might not like, or that we might not understand the first time around.  We read to reread, to connect, and to learn new things.

We read to remember what it was like to love to read.

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After just a week, we’d already read 13 books! 

 

 

 

 

#ILA16

twitterfeedcopyMan, social media is great.
On Saturday morning, while sipping on my morning coffee and scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw that many of my Heroes of Teaching were using the hashtag #ILA16. I was curious, and after a quick Google search, I found that the International Literacy Association’s annual conference was taking place in Boston at that very second.

I put down my coffee, hopped on a bus to Boston, and by 1:30, I was registered (Thanks, Olivia!) and ready to learn.

 

 

Sessions

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Donalyn Miller and John Schumacher’s featured session

The ILA hosted many of my faves this weekend: Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Donalyn Miller. But the best thing about conventions like this? You get to meet new heroes, like Debbie Diller, who quickly became one of my faves during her featured Saturday afternoon session. (Did you know that classroom clutter is responsible for many problems in misbehavior and inattentiveness? I didn’t ! )

 

Donalyn Miller and John Schumacher were the featured speakers early Sunday morning, presenting on the role of the reading ambassador in schools. Miller admitted that, “It can be challenging to be the voice of independent reading in your schools,” which is something that I struggled a lot with last year.

She also made that point that, “Students should be spending more time reading, writing, and talking about reading and writing than reading and then building crafts.” So true. Many times as educators, we think about the cool and crafty end product, losing sight of actual literacy goals: teaching students how to read and write. Crafts are fun, and I love giving students freedom to build during our performance assessments, but we have to remember that our job isn’t to teach them art; our job is to teach them literacy.  

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My heroes in education:  Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher

By far, though, the highlight of my ILA experience was seeing Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s session on “Reimagining Reading.” Penny Kittle actually teaches at my former high school (sadly, I graduated before she arrived!), and I’ve heard first-hand from community members and my younger siblings how she has reshaped literacy in our small New Hampshire community. I’ve written a lot about how Gallagher informed my writing instruction this year, and Kittle has inspired so much of what we do in relation to choice reading.

 

Both Gallagher and Kittle are supporters of giving students choice in their English classes, informing us that they aim to “give experiences every day that call students back into reading: the joy and ride of a book.” Over this last year, they joined their classes together, bi-coastally, with one “big picture” goal: to increase engagement/volume, increase complexity, and to help students develop an allegiance to authors and genres. This project will turn into their next book, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Exhibitors
Look, I love the National Council of Teachers of English, and their convention is filled with great professional development, but the exhibit hall can be a total a nightmare to navigate. It’s not the fault of NCTE or the exhibitors…they are great!  It’s the greedy attending non educators who make it difficult, pushing their way into booths to snag any and all available ARCs, loudly declaring that they’ll be selling them on Amazon later (which, by the way, is illegal). There wasn’t anything like that at ILA.

upstairsThe exhibit hall at ILA was so much more relaxed than at other conferences I’ve been to. There were ARCs available, but everyone took their time checking them out and making sure they’d be a good fit for their student population.  I didn’t see anyone pushing through the crowd to grab any and all ARCs, and I didn’t see any rolling suitcases, which was refreshing.  I was able to chat with the people at Booksource, who make my favorite classroom library organizational app, and chat with representatives from my favorite YA publishers: Penguin, MacMillan, and Simon & Schuster, who also had author signings throughout the day.  I even got to watch a presentation in the exhibit hall by the author of the Pete the Cat books!

(…and I got to meet and chat with Kelly Gallagher at the Stenhouse booth!)

In all, ILA was such an unexpected treat of a weekend.
They’ll be in Orlando next summer.  So grateful and thankful to ILA for welcoming me into this conference at the very last minute!

Reflections.

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We read 777 choice books this year.  Each link = one book!

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This student had never read a book before entering my classroom. This year he read four.

This has been the best year ever.
By moving my class into a workshop model, my students have read more than ever. They’ve liked and understood what they’ve read.

They’ve not only written more than ever, but they’ve actually enjoyed what they’ve written, and their writing was the best I’ve ever seen.

We have a curriculum, but they’ve been given choices all year.  When presented with a literature unit, they’ve picked the book.  When presented with a writing assignment, they’ve picked their topic.

As I continue in this model, I’m contemplating changing the structure of our year with the first semester focused on our writing workshop, continuing to use poetry and smaller texts as models.

I’d like our second semester focused on literature in the form of genre studies.  I’ll still weave writing throughout the semester, but I’d like to see my students build more stamina in their choice reading before tackling some of the harder, assigned texts.

 

choicesI taught a few stories from J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories in these final weeks of school, and I’d love to use that book as a mentor text during that first semester.  Despite what my students call its “old-fashioned talking,” those short stories are complex and perfect for analysis practice.

Next year, I’d also like to have my students build blogs at the beginning of the year.  During this last month, my students were encouraged to publish their work to earn “Exemplary” grades (one student even took to Twitter for publication!), but we definitely needed a lesson on how to build and market a blog earlier.  If we had done this at the beginning of the year, it would have sunk in…but in these final weeks, it didn’t.

chartThat said, this has been the most rewarding year of my teaching career. 
When given permission to really take my class full-press into a reader/writer workshop, I was prepared for a lot of work.

It was a lot of work.

This isn’t easy. Building a culture of competent readers and writers takes very, very hard work.  

On top of planning and grading, you have to conference with students every day.
You have to read a book a week to inform recommendations.
You have to write your own essays and bring them to workshop.
In a genre study, you have to read four books at a time, write discussion points, and guide groups of students through the text. 

You have to truly, genuinely know every single student that sits in your room.

And it’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. 

Our Best Books of the Year

While there is always a lot of diversity in the books that my students pick as their choice reads, these books have been our “most read” and “must-reads” this year.

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The Martian
by Andy Weir
Despite it being adult-targeted science fiction, this has been the most popular book in our classroom this year by miles.  Space scares me.  I didn’t want to read this, but after I read the first sentence,  I was hooked.  (You will be too.)  Mark Watney is one of the greatest characters to ever exist, and even though I was terrified for him the entire time, I loved.this.book.  I bought two copies because I left mine on my desk over a weekend and couldn’t face the weekend without it.

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Winger/Stand-Off by Andrew Smith
I’m not shy about my gigantic author crush on Andrew Smith.  Winger and its sequel, Stand-Off, have been read by almost everyone in my classes at this point.  Winger begins with its protagonist, Ryan Dean West, beginning boarding school as a 14-year-old junior.  It’s hilarious, and then it ruins your life.  My students tell me that Stand-Off makes you feel a little bit better about life, but I haven’t read it yet because I can’t keep it on my shelf.    This summer!

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Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
This makes the list of “most popular books” every.single.year.  This memoir was published in 2002, but I can’t keep it on my shelf for more than a day.  It’s popular with both genders, and I think that’s because it has some crazy passages, inappropriate language, and risque chapters.  It’s also stolen from our classroom library every year, which to me, is the mark of a great book.  

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Prisoner B-3087
by Alan Gratz
This book is about a Jewish boy in the 1930s who experiences 10 different concentration camps.  It’s (obviously) sad, but because it’s not as excruciatingly graphic as a book like Night, it makes for a great choice read.  This short novel is actually intended for middle-grade students, but my high school students have enjoyed it all year.  Many students who read military history and military memoirs pick this up as an “easy” read.  

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The Art of Being Normal
by Lisa Williamson
Despite being an LGBTQ advocate, I never truly understood what it’s like being a transgender person until I read this book about a person who is born male, but identifies as female.  This book gives a much-needed voice to transgender teens while also providing emotional moments and plot twists.  Plus, because it’s British, it makes you feel super fancy while you read it.  

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The 5th Wave
by Rick Yancey
Our classroom copy of The 5th Wave has been well-read this year because of the film release.  I hesitated in picking this up (because, remember, space scares me), but I’m glad that I did, even though I had nightmares for two weeks.  This science fiction book has a storyline that’s grounded in reality, with an average teenage girl discovering that her world is about to be destroyed by aliens.  Because it’s science fiction combined with romance, all kinds of readers liked this one, including me.  

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before/PS I still Love You by Jenny Han
These are so popular in my classroom and I loved them too. In this series, sixteen-year-old Lara Jean writes love letters to all of the boys that she’s had crushes on, and locks the letters in a box in her closet.  When her younger sister finds and mails them, she’s faced with a lot of awkward explanation, and then finds herself in a love triangle.  At the end of the second book, most of us threw it across the room.

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Escape from Camp 14
by Blane Harden
I gratefully received my copy of this book at the NCTE convention in Boston a few years ago, and it’s been a hit with my students ever since.  This biography details Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known person to escape from an internment camp in North Korea. Because it gives readers a glimpse into what life is really like in North Korea, it instantly hooks readers.  This book has appealed to many students who are interested in military history, but it’s also been read by students who enjoy realistic fiction and memoir.

(My students helped me write and edit this post through writing workshop!)

 

 

April celebrations!

april chain

Each link of that yellow chain represents a choice book read during April

We read 74 choice books last month!

Spring fever has hit.  Prom is two weeks away.  It’s getting warmer.  The end of the year is in sight.  Everything is distracting.  We’re still reading.

That’s 635 books read so far this year!  

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Major celebrations.

feb chain

Each link of this pink chain represents a choice novel read during February!

We read 81 books last month!  (That’s 493 so far this year.)

But what I really want to celebrate:
Today one of my students finished the first book of his life.  And he read it in two days.    

I’ve worked with this guy since his freshman year, and it has felt like the Most Impossible Task to settle him into a book.  I estimate that over the 16 months we’ve worked together, I’ve suggested 79,827 books to him, most of which were abandoned after a sentence.

3239487I knew that there was a book out there somewhere in the world for him.  And then, yesterday, when I book-talked the graphic novel Yummy, about a teenager growing up in a violent neighborhood in Chicago, it happened.  He immediately snatched it and started reading.

When our reading time was up, he groaned and said, “MS. BONIN, I DON’T WANT TO STOP READING!”  I felt like I was dreaming.  Then, today, he finished it.

He put up our first link for March this afternoon, and I wanted to pull him out onto the track for a victory lap.  But instead, we high-fived and woo-yelled.  A lot.

I never, ever give up on recommending and searching for choice books for even my most reluctant readers. 

It’s all about finding that first book.  It took 16 months of research, suggestions, and support on my part (and a lot of resistance and skepticism on his part), but I didn’t give up on him.  This could be the start of something great.