Sunday, September 14, 2014

Choice in Summer Reading

As I join this Sunday Series about Summer Reading, it is only fair to let you know that while I am currently a literacy coach, I taught 5th grade for the past ten years.  I share this information because summer reading is not a topic with which I had to deal.

However, in recent years, I made it a personal crusade to make sure my students, who all embraced reading while in my classroom during the school year, continued their reading lives once they left fifth grade for the summer, where weeks of doing nothing but what they wanted appeared quite delightful to some.

The last week of reading workshop became the time we planned for what our summer reading would be like.  Much like having a 40 Book Challenge (Donalyn Miller) during the school year, for a variety of reasons, students might not be able to achieve everything listed as a goal on their summer reading plan.  That's okay because I knew that having the plan might just be the kickstart they needed to keep reading, rather the end result is two, ten, or thirty books completed.  It beat the number zero every time!

When we developed our plans, we spent time looking at a variety of reading possibilities:

  • the new book release calendar that John Schumaker kindly curates so that they could plan to read new books from favorite authors or series
  • books that were so popular in our class they just didn't get their hands on them
  • rereads of some of our read-alouds
  • online reading
  • audio book reading
  • magazine and newspaper reading
  • trying a genre they had never read before
  • fun, easy on the brain, books
  • the book they chose from the 6th grade summer reading list
The list went on and on.  As students developed their own summer reading plan, tailored just for them by them, I could see the ownership they had in their reading.  Students knew their likes and dislikes, and were basing their summer reading plan on that information.

But here's the thing - because those students moved on to middle school, a new building where I didn't see them, I'm not aware of how those reading plans fared.  It would be wonderful to have a district plan where, each year, we all had students create summer reading plans for themselves, and then had the conversation of how they did with those plans at the beginning of the school year as we begin to learn about our new groups of readers.  Wouldn't the knowledge based on that type of conversation be incredibly helpful at knowing students' reading interests and abilities?

When reading is assigned for the summer, I worry about the readers who do not have the tools to be able to access an understanding of the text.  It is the same argument for why I believe read aloud is a critical part of a child's literacy day - it levels the playing field for those who might not be able to read the text on their own, but if I read it aloud, they can share in the contextual thinking along with everyone else.

Teaching, and in this case teaching literacy, is an art.  So, is it fair to ask students lacking in those skills needed to understand a text, to read something "above their understanding" during the summer?  Wouldn't it better to wait until we could use our "artistry" of teaching to best help them scaffold and understand a piece of literature?

I've rambled a bit today; I apologize.  I do think this is an important conversation to have, and I am thrilled that Lee Ann started it now as she is reflecting on the summer reading her students did.  It could help guide all of us to a better understanding of what are the best practices when it comes to summer reading.  To read more about what others are saying around this topic, check out Lee Ann's blog.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Boom Snot Twitty - #IMWAYR

With a title like Boom Snot Twitty, I'm not sure I need to write a lot more about why I loved this book, but I can't resist.

I was at our public library, and this lovely gem was sitting on the new picture book shelves.  I picked it up for the title and the darling characters illustrated on the front cover, but as I read the book, I realized it had huge potential in the classroom.

Boom Snot Twitty is the story of three friends who are incredibly different in the choices they make in similar circumstances.  Boom is a bear, Twitty is a bird, and Snot is a snail.  Fun with alliteration right off the bat!

But then understanding characters - wow!  This book could carry you far in thinking about that standard with students.  I once heard Dorothy Barnhouse say that when teaching complex ideas and thinking, it is best to start with a simple text and build skills, and then work to applying those complex ideas and thinking with more complex texts.  For that reason, I knew this simple picture book would be perfect in the intermediate classrooms in which I work.

The 3rd grade common core standard, RL.3.3 says: 
"Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events."

The 4th grade common core standard, RL.4.3 says:
"Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions)."

The 5th grade common core standard, RL.5.3 says:
"Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact)."

Boom Snot Twitty is a perfect introductory text for all three of these standards.  It is a simple text that will allow 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade readers to access each of them.  Describing characters - check.  Describe in depth a character, drawing on specific details in the text - check.  Compare/contrast two or more characters, drawing on specific details in the text - check.

This is a book I will be both purchasing and recommending to all intermediate grade teachers.

But before I order, I will be reading all the other posts at Jen Vincent's blog, Teach Mentor Texts, to see what other people read and loved this week.  Thanks so much to her for hosting the Kidlit version of #IMWAYR meme.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reflections on Summer Reading

Recently, my husband and I made a trip from our home in Ohio to visit our eldest daughter in Washington, D.C.  The route we chose took us through the beautiful mountains on I-68 in western Maryland.  There were many up-slopes and down-slopes to navigate as we drove through those mountains.

We noticed that there were not as many semi-trucks on this route as on I-70.  I'm sure there are multiple reasons that is true, but my husband and I began to reflect on the toll the inclines seemed to be taking on the trucks.

When we were driving on an incline, oftentimes the interstate went from two lanes to three lanes, because the trucks seemed to slow to a crawl at times, carrying their loads upward and they needed their own lane.  It was a very laborious process for the trucks; sometimes you could even hear engines "screaming" in protest.

On the downhill slopes, it was another story.  The trucks would begin to pick up speed, and start flying down the hills.

When Lee Ann sent an all-call out last week because she was beginning to reflect on what was happening in classrooms around summer reading, the pictures of those trucks immediately came to mind.

Like most readers, when a text is required of me (and I'm not invested in that requirement), I move pretty darn slow.  I begin to exhibit many avoidance strategies, and my movement through the required text is as slow as those trucks we watched in western Maryland.

However, if the choice is mine, I am flying through the reading.  In the summer, I always have a huge pile of books from the library and I am a carnivore of books - reading all types, quickly jumping from one to the other.

The week before school, I ran into one of my students from last year and her mother.  This student was a voracious reader; she was always reading and had a "to-be-read" pile at all times.  When I asked her what she read this summer, she listed multiple titles, and was very excited about all of them.  But her ending remark was the one that bothered me and the reason I decided to dust off my part of this blog, and post a few things on this Sunday Series about Summer Reading.  The student said she had started her chosen book (out of a list of 4) for her sixth grade summer reading requirement multiple times, but she just wasn't enjoying it, and couldn't seem to get past page 50.  The book she chose is one I love a great deal - I know it's a good book, and she would like it if it had been her choice.  However, she became like one of those trucks - she was struggling to get up the hill of an assigned summer reading.

I truly appreciate the thinking and effort that went into creating the different summer reading lists for our district's middle school; some of the people that helped create these lists are very smart colleagues of mine.  The books they chose are good titles, and most will provide thoughtful discussion around a common story line.  And they did create choice for summer reading - the soon-to-be 6th graders had to read at least 1 book of choice as well as 1 book from the list of 4.

Yet, all that being said, this voracious reader I know, is left feeling frustrated that she can't complete a required text.  As someone who encouraged her love of reading, I worry about that.  Should she be thinking more about the 1 text she didn't complete, or the 30 books she did read over the summer?

I do believe students should be reading - A LOT -  during the summer.
I do believe there is a perfect time for students to share and study a book as an entire class.
I'm just not sure the place to start that study is in the summer.

Now that Lee Ann encouraged me to dust off the blog, I'll be back with some further reflections next  Sunday.  As truth in advertising, I should mention that as an elementary teacher, summer reading isn't a topic with which I had to deal in my classroom.  However, as a parent of children who had required summer reading, I did have an opinion.  But, I will be interested to see how others who are invested in this topic year in and year out, such as middle and high school teachers, weigh in on this topic.  For more of these reflections, head over to Lee Ann's blog, Portable Teacher, to read today's reflections.