Reading has always been a large and very positive part of my life. I am a reader and my reading life was formed during my early childhood living in a home surrounded by books. My parents are avid readers and, … Continue reading
In March, our 2nd graders delved into the works of children’s book author Maribeth Boelts. We read and discussed three of her books, Those Shoes, A Bike Like Sergio’s, and Happy Like Soccer. The books tell relatable stories about social … Continue reading
I recently read Kate Messner’s How to Read a Story (illus. Mark Siegel) with my 1st grade students. It is an excellent story about encouraging a love of reading. It served as a great mentor text for my students to … Continue reading
Danny’s Banned Book Poster In September, the American Library Association celebrated Banned Books Week. Who knew that this 5th grade lesson would turn into an amazing discussion about belief systems and values! We learned about who challenges books, where, and … Continue reading
With my 1st grade students, I recently worked on the concept of prediction based on visual and text evidence as a comprehension strategy. We discussed the importance of making predictions while reading and supporting those predictions with evidence, including the book’s cover, illustrations, or specific text passages. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson served as our mentor text. We studied the book cover, then took a picture walk, and read aloud the story, stopping after certain passages to make predictions based on visual or text evidence.
If you are familiar with this story about friendship, I stopped reading just after the narrator tells his new friend, Jeremy, to not eat the enemy pie. “Jeremy, don’t eat it! It’s bad pie! I think it’s poisonous or something!” My question for the kids, “What do you predict is going to happen next? Will Jeremy eat the pie, or will he listen to his friend? What is your evidence?”
The students completed an organizer:
They then used the BookCreator app for iPad to write, illustrate, and audio record their prediction and evidence.
We then exported the student creations as movie files to our school Vimeo account and uploaded to each student’s blogfolio.
While there are certainly advantages to sharing one’s reading experiences globally using Goodreads or a similar social platform, to show my students that teachers are readers too, I purposefully chose the old-fashioned route: poster collages. My initial goal was to create a visual record of my and my colleagues’ reading in order to model for our students that their teachers embrace their roles as readers. Moreover, based on the premise that reading is social, I also wanted to foster a community of readers within our small school. The poster collages are a quick analog way to identify, inform, and share information about the books in our lives.
So at the beginning of the school year, I invited my colleagues to participate simply by emailing me the title and author of books (professional and pleasure) read during the course of the school year. I printed the images of those book covers and glued them to posters I had created for each participating reader. Since many of my library walls are floor-to-ceiling glass, they lend themselves perfectly for display. On their way to lunch or PE, our students would regularly walk past those book posters. I noticed them looking, pointing to different book covers, and commenting that their teachers were reading a lot. In fact, one boy seemed to think that our Vice Principal and I were in a competition–one I was quickly losing as Morah Eta read at least two books weekend after weekend.
While the posters provided a fun way to see how quickly a list of books read can grow, it also became clear that many of our students liked to stop and look at the book covers to find recommendations for reading. In fact, not only were students connected with books, but parents asked about titles and faculty discussed books they had read. I found myself discussing adult books among colleagues with whom I had not discussed books before. The posters helped create a connection between faculty and students who share an interest in reading. They also helped our students see that reading is not just something they have to do for school, but rather is embraced by their teachers for pleasure.
I was very fortunate to spend some valuable reading time every week during our third quarter with seven 5th grade students. Their language arts teacher, Andrea Hernandez, wanted to provide these students with a more personalized approach to close reading instruction. All seven students are excellent readers and we decided to challenge them with an unabridged classic, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. Since these students are in our pilot 1:1 iPad classroom and because I’ve been looking for a reason to give it a try, I decided to immerse our little group in a digital reading experience of this classic novel via Subtext for iPad app.
Subtext is a product of Renaissance Learning company (yes, of Accelerated Reader software fame), designed as a “collaborative ereading experience for K12 classrooms.” I chose to use the free, basic version of the app, which provided us with enough functionality. Alternatively, for a fee, users can upgrade to the premium features, offering access to CCSS-aligned assignments, text-to-speech option, and access to leveled nonfiction and informational texts. The only premium feature I would have liked to try out is the ability to track student progress. But since my group consisted of only seven students, it probably would not have made a difference. The basic version provided us with enough adequate functionality to upgrade our novel study to a new form of a social reading experience.
The app offers access to a large collection of ebooks, some for a fee and some are free. Since our classic is available in the public domain, we all downloaded a free version of Around the World in 80 Days directly into the app. I then created a “5th Grade Reading” group, inviting all seven members to join. Instructors have the ability to “enable student restrictions”, effectively preventing students from navigating the Web and sharing notes. I am not sure what the point of such restrictions is in an ereading environment, so opted to not turn them on.
Mostly students read outside of our limited class time. To ensure students were reading more deeply and to assess understanding, I built discussion questions, multiple choice assessments, and polls directly into the text. These features allowed me to view and assess student responses prior to our next meeting in order to then focus on those parts of the text that needed clarification. As the teacher, I had the option to hide all responses until students submitted their answers.
Another value-added feature of Subtext is the ability to embed links to websites, images, or videos. To help build background knowledge, I linked to information about the author, the Suez canal, a map of the British colonies and another of colonial India, an image of a cow catcher mounted to the front of the old American locomotives, and more. Students also were able to embed links into their comments.
While reading, students highlighted words or entire passages and added notes. They then had the option to share the notes with the group. Simply tabbing a word pulled up a built-in dictionary, complete with audio pronunciation of the word and links to search both the Google search engine as well as Wikipedia.
The last feature we used is Subtext’s build-in link to Google Drive. Since our school uses Google Apps for Education, all our students have Gmail accounts and access to Google Drive. We shared a Google Doc of our schedule and this build-in link allowed us seamless access.
Would I use Subtext again? Yes! Using the app as a tool allowed students a different way of connecting with our text. Reading in groups is a social activity where students are learning with their peers. But using this digital tool elevated our small-group reading to a more inclusionary/participatory level by giving even those students who are usually not very vocal an equal voice. The lesson also demonstrates the power of liquid learning–most of the work was done outside of class. Also, the ability to build-in questions and to embed links facilitated active reading–although some students complained that the “the discussion questions…got in the way when there was a good part.” Most importantly, liquid resources like Subtext enable teachers to transcend the classroom and even school boundaries. Spending time together with a good book can include students across the room or literally across the world!
On Tuesdays, our middle school rotation students are in the library for study hall. Most of them typically work on their current event assignments, which are due on Wednesdays. The students have to find a news story of national or international impact and summarize it in their own words. This week, I worked with one of our 6th grade students, who had chosen a story about the current Russia-EU/US standoff over the Ukraine. Aside from the fact that she was clearly lacking any background knowledge on the shared history of the Ukraine and Russia, the student also had an extremely difficult time comprehending the text due to a lack of vocabulary knowledge. For example, what are “political, diplomatic, and economic sanctions”? What does it mean when “Putin says he thinks the West is provoking Russia”?
I am currently meeting twice weekly with a small group of 5th grade students who are reading Verne’s classic (original, unabridged version) Around the World in 80 Days. Written in the 1880s, the novel’s old British English presents my seven students with a completely new language and style. We are using Subtext for iPad (there’ll be a post on this app some time in the near future), which allows me to pose queries for the students directly within the text. One challenge I like to pose is: “Please rewrite this sentence in contemporary English”–oftentimes resulting in a number of varied interpretations. Examples include: “A room was engaged for the young woman, and Mr. Fogg, after seeing that she wanted for nothing, set out in search of her cousin Jeejeeh.” Or, “He acquitted his task with characteristic serenity, and invariably replied to the remonstrances of his fair companion, who was confused by his patience and generosity.”
Whether reading for information as in the current event assignment or reading for entertainment as in our classics reading group, students must show comprehension. Both types of assignments are requiring students to read deeply, i.e. forcing students to stop and think about meaning. Deep reading is challenging. It is easy to read one Rick Riordan or Margaret Haddix or JK Rowling book after another, following a highly engaging story. But it is an entirely different proposition to read deeply, interpreting style nuances and translating vocabulary. But it is in facing these challenges that readers gain maturity and depth. Both our social studies teacher’s current event assignments and the reading of a true classic promote just that: enhanced literacy.
I’ve been struck in recent weeks by student responsiveness to three heartwarming projects, Book Tasting, Retelling, and the Book Minute. In Book Tasting, students have three minutes to examine a number of books, evaluating each according to their own entirely personal and subjective assessment of “what matters.” In Retelling, students take it a step further by personally narrating the summary elements of a story (character, setting, problem, solution, etc) to their peers and in their own words. In the Book Minute, students choose a favorite book and try to “sell it” to their classmates in a one-minute presentation. In all cases, I’ve been struck by how students engage with the material in their own unique ways–interpreting, evaluating, emphasizing, ignoring or celebrating aspects of their reading in ways completely informed by their unique personalities.
In being privileged to sit with students as they negotiate various reading materials–involving both content that they “love” and self-selected as well as assigned reading–I’ve realized (again) how important literacy is to the formation of identity and biography. I’ve often heard the statement “you are what you eat,” but I see how it becomes even more true that “you are what you read.” What I found particularly revealing were the presentations students made about their reading during the Retelling (here and here and here) and Book Minute sessions. In each case, the unique personalities of each little soul came shining through!
As a librarian, I live to connect people with the content that they seek. In whatever format, print, digital, audio, or video–my role is to help make the connections. In doing so, I have the privilege of helping to shape students’ personal reading biographies. I have come to realize (again) how it is my personal mission to help young people become who they are, in the most supportive and caring ways possible. Participating in authentic literacy activities is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job.