Friday, February 5, 2016

What I Would Tell My First-Year Teacher Self in 1998… Part II

Part II of a post from our PERC Chairperson Lisa Carlson. Check the earlier post for Part I.

5. Have Kids Set Their Own Reading Goals

In all my Reading is Thinking and English classes, students set their own reading goals at the beginning of the year. The goal includes the number of books they will read during that year (it is re-evaluated half-way through the year), along with a “challenge” goal. For the stronger readers, it might be to find a new author or to read a classic. For others, it might be to finish A book. I send a letter home to parents at the beginning of the year stating my expectations of the students (they select the majority of their reading and that they must read for two hours a week on their own time), which parents then sign and send back with the student. The students keep track of their reading minutes on clip boards that are passed around the beginning of each class. In the letter, I also explain why I have those expectations through using current statistics about the importance of reading. The minimum goal the students can select is five books in a year—their choice and I count books read in class. We keep track of the books on a piece of chart paper with stickers. I usually have the students in one class or another all year-long, so it works out to one book every two months. Ninety-percent of the kids make it every year. What I look for the most is an improvement from the previous year.

4. Provide Choice and Mentor Texts

Most of the time, I let the kids pick their books, then as they grow in confidence, I challenge them. For example, the graphic novel series Amulet has been a great starter series for the boys. I then encourage them to read Ender’s Game or The Giver.  I let kids read items that are “outside the box” as well, such as the Bible, their Driver’s Ed manual, and magazines (we negotiate what is equal to “a book”, depending on the magazine). In the last few years, in lieu of the standard whole class novel, I have used Reading Circles  with 12 to 15 choices. When selecting, I look for: fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, length, difficulty, etc.
When it comes to writing, I let the kids pick their writing topics, although depending on the unit, I may be choosing the genre when writing. I also have used Kelly Gallagher’s method of using mentor texts. I have found the writing has been of greater quality. I always do the writing assignment with the students as well and take the risk of sharing it with them. I stress that I am not expert, but again, it shows that I’m willing to take risks as well.

3. Listen to the Students’ Requests

When spending my budget for the year, I ask for suggestions from the students. In June, I put a page up in my room called: “Help Mrs. Carlson spend her budget” and “Mrs. Carlson’s Summer Reading List”. I have discovered new authors and genres through my students. I always try to focus on my “non-readers’” requests. I also make sure I save budget money for throughout the year in order to add onto sequels.

2. Be Flexible and Learn to Let Go

One of the hardest things I have done in the last few years is let go of The Lord of the Flies, The Giver, and To Kill a Mockingbird. I had an awesome Survivor game to go with The Lord of the Flies and great Layered Curriculums to go with The Giver and To Kill a Mockingbird.  I replaced them with quality texts that work with our thematic units on “Human Rights/Racism”, “Dystopia” and “Social Justice”. By doing so, I am able to offer a wider range in texts to better suit each individual student. By having a number of books, the stronger students can go off and read as many books as they wish. I am then able to offer the more reluctant readers books at their reading level and a mixture of fiction, non-fiction and graphic novels.

1. Read Lots, Read Often and Read a Variety

YOU MUST BE A READER, TOO! That is SO, SO, SO incredibly important. While planning a presentation for a workshop on my classroom reading practices two years ago, I came to the sad realization that I don’t ever remember discussing with my high school or jr. high school English teachers what I liked to read. Just as teachers need reading mentors, students also need reading mentors. A teacher needs to have enough knowledge of Young Adult novels in order to give suggestions to all readers—male, female, strong, struggling—all readers. This may mean reading outside of your comfort zone and that’s ok. Did I enjoy The Hobbit? Nope, not at all, but I got one of my male students to read a book out of his comfort zone as well (I’m not a fantasy fan). I did discover my enjoyment of dystopia though after winning a gift certificate at a PERC workshop. The catch to winning it was to buy a book for your classroom for the boys and/or reluctant readers in your room. Enter: The Hunger Games and my appreciation of the dystopia genre.

I have shared a few of the ideas I have learned over the past several years. Now hear what my students have to say:
  • ·       Ask the kids what THEY want to read
  • ·       Use a variety of books and genres in the class
  • ·       NO boring books
  • ·       Do cool projects during the books/creative projects
  • ·       The teacher should read the books that interest the kids, too
  • ·       Suggest different books to the students
  • ·       Be enthusiastic about reading
  • ·       Be encouraging
  • ·       Give time to read in class--this really helps me want to read more at home (six students said this!)
  • ·       Have lots of books in class
  • ·       Having a goal at the beginning of the year really pushes you to meet that goal and read more
  • ·       Make it nice and quiet

 The Five PD Books I Would Save in a Fire:
  • ·       Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller
  • ·       The Book Whisperer by Donayln Miller
  • ·       Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle
  • ·       Book Love by Penny Kittle
  • ·       Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher

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