#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!

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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!  

april totals

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.

 

Celebration (and Accountability)

january chain

We read 112 choice books last month!

Each link of the white chain above represents a choice book finished in January.

I do the same things every month to support our choice reading:  I book talk, I model, I conference, I high five and I encourage the abandonment of books that don’t quite fit.

I also pass around a clipboard during our reading time where students mark their pages.  My students are expected to read for ten minutes every night, and they do have a reading goal they’re expected to meet each week.

Our Formula:
(pages read in ten minutes) x 12 increments of 10 minutes each week = (rate)

choice read pagesTruthfully, I really don’t care if they make their reading goal or not.
I’ve talked to a lot of teachers who get frustrated by the accountability clipboard, since it tells them that many (okay, most) students aren’t reading at night.  After reviewing the data, they lecture their students about their failure to complete their homework.  Reading again becomes WORK, and students again hate it.

As you can see from our chart, most of my students don’t meet their reading goal every week.  Some students may read five pages a week, while some read 126.

I force myself not to be frustrated.  I tell my students to be honest during the clipboard rotation, because I’m not going to yell if they’re not meeting their goal.  Because they’re still reading.   

If students aren’t progressing in their books, I conference with them more often.  More often than not, at the first check-in of a slow reader, it’s revealed that they hate their book.  So I pull new books, and we toss the boring one back on the shelf.

reading binderI keep all of my students on the same chart, because I like when they spy on what everyone else is reading.  The titles that pop up the most often are the titles that I stock in my classroom library.  (The most popular right now:  To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Martian, and Stand-Off.)

Nobody in my classroom is ever without a book during our reading time.  When students write that they’ve finished a book, or just leave their space blank, that’s my cue to pull a pile of new books for them.  At this point of the year, I know exactly what genre each of my students prefers and what genres they hate, so pulling recommendations is easy.

Our choice reading also helps me get to know my students better.  I keep all of our old logs in a three-ring binder, and I use them as a reference when I’m stuck on titles, or when I want to check out old reading rates.  (This also comes in handy when I’m trying to track down missing books in June!)

I accept that my room might be the only place that my students can read, and I support them however I can.

We’ve read 412 choice novels so far this year.  

 

 

Analysis: Text isn’t just the printed word.

rubric reviewThese writing workshops have been dreams come true.

Our whole-class writing and editing model has produced the best writing I’ve ever seen from students.  I don’t dread grading anymore.  I’ve genuinely loved reading their pieces, because with choice, comes different topics and a true author’s voice.

Most of the writing that we’ve done up to this point has been fairly enjoyable to my students.  We’ve moved beyond the five-paragraph essay.  They’ve been able to have their own voices, opinions and experiences (even in research-based tasks).

So when they saw that our next stop was analytical writing, they groaned.  Loudly.

They’re not looking forward to analysis.
I understand why:  they’ve practiced it a lot in response to difficult literary and informational text throughout their school careers.  It’s hard for them, and they view critical analysis as totally boring.

This week, we talked about how when you watch the same movie again, you notice new things.  And when you listen to the same song again, you hear new things.  That’s why we need to reread text to increase our understanding.

When I told them that analyzing text wasn’t always boring, they rolled their eyes, inwardly and outwardly.  So I showed them a painting of weird naked people.

The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights

I love Bosch’s painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights.”   It’s one of my faves from my art history courses in college because of its complexity, total weirdness, and opportunities for multiple interpretations.

Too often, when my students read text, they rush through their assignment looking for the correct answer. But analysis isn’t about the right answer.  It’s about close-reading.  Rereading.  Contemplation.

They’re used to text being only the printed word.  But text isn’t just the printed word.

first viewWe examined Bosch’s painting three times and took notes during each examination, only commenting on what we saw and keeping our interpretations to ourselves.

We maintained total quiet during our first five-minute study.  It was very difficult for them, since there’s a LOT that they wanted to talk about when they saw this painting.  They wrote down quick notes on what they saw.  I covered the painting, and we shared out.

Then, I zoomed in on the lower-left.  Again, we quietly studied the painting and wrote down what we saw, sharing out afterwards.  This time, I left the painting up and let my students point out the strange things they saw.

We quietly studied once more, this time looking at the lower-right side of the painting.  We talked through what we saw one last time, and finally, they had to decide what the heck this painting was about.

This is always the hardest part.
My students are always terrified to come up with the “wrong” answer in their analytical writing, and no matter how many times I assure them that analysis is all about their own thoughts and their own supporting evidence from the text, they‘re always scared to take a risk and make an educated guess.  

analysis paragraph

Since we’d already shared out what we saw, most students weren’t afraid to share their interpretations of the text.  (But first, I made them hide their erasers from themselves.  They always self-doubt after they hear the first share!)

One student thought the artist was showing the progression of drug-use:  first things are normal, then they’re crazy, and then you die.  (Whoa.) I’ve never thought of that interpretation, and I loved it.

varied analysis

Some thought the painting was a warning of times to come.  Others leaned more towards a more religious analysis of this painting:  the first panel shows the beginning of life, then everyone sins their brains out and we all end up in Hell.

I never told them what I learned about the meaning of the painting in my art history courses .  

Despite the fact that almost all of my students’ analytical pieces of writing strayed from what many historians feel is the meaning of Bosch’s painting, their answers were correct because they supported them with evidence from the text.