Reading Doors

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Slice of Life: My Happy Place

Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Join in and write your own slice. 

The air was cool and crisp, promising a fall like day despite the mid-summer date. I was awoken by the sun's warm rays on my face. I climbed out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom to get ready for the day. I chose jeans and a thin sweatshirt, knowing the back porch would feel 10-15 degrees colder due to the shade it was always wrapped in. 

As I headed to the kitchen, I grabbed my small stack of to-be-read books, the ones sitting on top already having been started. Coffee first. I hit the power button and listened as the machine gurgled to life and the water inside began to bubble. While it did, I took care of the dogs. One headed out after being in all night and the other came in to eat after having been out all night. Finally the coffee was done and all three of us headed to the back porch. 

My books and coffee went on the small table that barely fit when the dogs and I were out too. I picked up the first book for the day, a Ricky Ricotta's Might Robot, one of the many classroom books I was trying to read before the school year started. As I read for what became hours, the dogs curled up behind me, content to sleep, though they'd barely woken up. 

The morning was perfect. The backyard sprawled out in front of me, a sea of green. The dogs, and now the cat who had joined us, laying beside me. The cool air a relief from the blistering heat of a couple weeks ago. Getting to do what I loved without interruption or obligation.

I had many days like this during the course of the summer. Some days grew too hot and I would begrudgingly head inside to work. My mornings spent reading were an oasis away from the house work, the errands, the planning for the upcoming school year, and I wished for nothing more than to spend forever on my back porch reading, happy and at peace.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reading in the Wild Reflection Ch. 5 & Appendices - #CyberPD


 Here we are in the final chapters of Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild. The journey is one that has definitely help me to grow and to improve myself and my teaching. I have reawakened my wild reading life and started my own blog due to this summer's #cyberPD. I have an overabundance of activities I want to try and conversations I am ready to have with my students once the school year starts. When I finished this book, all I wanted was more of it to read. 

Chapter 5: Wild Readers Show Preferences
"The more widely we read, the more expertise we offer to our students." (pg 167) I was struck by this sentence and the ramifications that not reading widely as teachers can have on my students. As I read this chapter, I was reminded over and over again that in order to have a meaningful and deep conversation with my students about their reading lives, I must have a deep knowledge of what they are reading. I must read more than my students and delve into the realms of all my students' preferences so that I can offer my students the books they need in order to push them forward. 

I know my preferences and my favorite authors, and I tend to stick to that small sphere of works. Though my preferences have changed in small ways (I used to read romances and Christian titles frequently, neither of which I do now), the core of my reading likes have not (I still absolutely love Agatha Christie mysteries, fantasy titles, and Kim Harrison books). I rarely venture out and most of the titles my students love, hold little appeal to me (Warriors series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants). Donalyn says that we need to "offer readers with strong genre preferences read-alike titles with similar themes or storylines" (pg 170) but how can I do this if I don't know what read-alike titles are available. I must read what my students are reading and take an unbiased look at them. 

Donalyn also devotes an entire section to graphic novels, magazines, and "light reading." I was introduced to graphic novels in high school through the Maus books by Art Spiegelman. However, my knowledge of other graphic novel titles, especially of titles appropriate for my 4th graders, is almost non-existent. After being reminded of the power these books can have to motivate some readers, I have committed myself to discovering graphic novels and other "light reading" materials that will be appropriate for my 4th grade readers. 

Request: If anyone is familiar with appropriate graphic novels, please let me know in a comment! It would be greatly appreciated!

Ways I Hope to Increase Wide Reading
  • Increasing the amount of informational, unique, and strange read-alouds. "By reading aloud more engaging historical and biographical works, introducing students to noteworthy authors, and encouraging students' interest in weird, unique, or fascinating information, we increase their interest and build background knowledge." (pg 178) This is one of my favorite suggestions in Donalyn's book and it's made on multiple occasions. What a great way to encourage student interest! I love read-alouds, but rarely use anything but fictional stories. That will be changing!
  • Pairing fiction texts with nonfiction related topics. (pg 181) This is something I have always tried to do, since I teach both social studies and language arts, but I could definitely be more intentional about it and have intentional conversations about the titles.
I want to "[encourage] students to read what they want while exposing them to high-interest, quality texts of all kinds." (pg 192) I want to share in the joy that my students will experience when they finally realize they can read and that it can be fun!

I LOVE that Donalyn put blank copies of her forms in the back for us to use and tweak. It is one thing for her to talk about them in her book, but it is much easier to understand what she means when I can see them on the page. Many of these forms I will be implementing into my classroom. Some of my developing readers will need scaffolding and a gradual release of responsibility, but most of my students will be able to handle the forms I am choosing to use. 

A Few of My Favorite Forms        
My favorite form is "My Reading List" (Form A.2) because it allows students to rate the books they read while tracking their reading life. I plan to use "My Reading Itinerary" (Form B.1) and "My Selection Reflection" (Form B.2) I plan to use these in the same manner as Donalyn described. I want my students to take ownership of their reading once they leave me and to do this they must be aware of when and how they read. 

I have several students every year who are reluctant to read during the independent reading time they are given. After observing an ongoing pattern of reading avoidance, I confer with them about this behavior. However, I think it would be great to have a record of exactly what they were doing instead of general statements and will use the "Independent Reading Time Observation" (Form C.1).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Slice of Life: A Cheese Festival

I discovered the Slice of Life Challenge that takes place at Two Writing Teachers through Michelle of Literacy Learning Zone. Please join me and write a slice of your own life and link to the Two Writing Teachers blog.

As my friend and I drove back from a relaxing weekend on her family's boat at Lake Erie, we came to the small town of W------. We had passed through the town on the way up as well, taking note of a cheese festival they were having that weekend. Driving back through, we saw that the festival was still being held and decided to stop on a whim.

We found a place to park at a beautiful nearby church. The sun was shining and there was a steady, cool breeze. The first table we came to was an information booth. The lady sitting behind the table looked tired, as though she had been there all day. She asked us to enter the macaroni and cheese eating contest that would be held in a few hours. We politely declined and continued to the next table, the only cheese table at the entire festival. The cheese had been out for quite some time and had severely softened. We tried some anyway, to be nice, but did not make any purchases.

The rest of the festival consisted of about half a dozen fair food vendors and a wine tasting tent. None of this was appealing and my friend and I started to regret our decision to stop at what could barely be considered a festival. I followed my friend as she meandered around, not really into having stopped anymore. Then she asked if I wanted to see what types of shops downtown W------ had to offer. Of course I did, anything to provide some worth to our sudden decision to drop by.

Very few of the stores seemed interesting either, and as it was a Sunday, many were closed. A small cafe caught our eyes though. It was called the Bread-N-Brew and seemed cheery, inviting, and delicious. We crossed the street and went in. The atmosphere was comforting and one corner was made up to have the feel of a living room. The menu was extensive and fresh. We decided to have lunch, sitting at a high-top table by the big front window. It was one of the best meals I've had in a long time due to the fresh produce used by the cafe.

Sitting and eating, my friend and I discussed the weekend fun we had just had and the festival we had decided to stop at. We both teach and we knew that school and sports would soon be starting back up for the both of us, taking our time quickly. Though the cheese festival was a disappointment, we found a gem of a cafe that provided us what well may be our last adventure for the summer.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Reading in the Wild Reflection Ch. 3 & 4 - #CyberPD


I realize that I did not write a blog for Week 1 Ch. 1 & 2 of this year's #cyberPD, but I am remedying that with Week 2. I have thoroughly loved reading Donalyn Miller's book Reading in the Wild. The ideas keep flooding me as I read through the chapters and I often have to pause to place tabs in the book or to type notes/ideas in my ever growing Google Doc, and chapters 3 & 4 were no exception.

Chapter 3: Wild Readers Share Books and Reading with Other Readers
Ideas to Build a Reading Community  
The best idea I am going to be borrowing from these two chapters is definitely the Reading Doors (pg 116-119). I got so excited about this idea as I was reading that I immediately contacted my principal, who is also read Reading in the Wild this summer, about making this a building wide endeavor.     
 In addition to the Reading Doors, our building and district has been taking extra steps (starting last year) to spread our reading community to the families of our students. We want to help parents and other community members understand the importance of reading. Chapter 3 reinforced what we have been working towards, while giving me many new ideas to share. Our district and building hosts family reading nights 3-4 times a year that provide reading activities and reinforcement for the students, while educating parents about the importance of reading, how to help their children, and what resources are available to them in the community/district. Every child walks away with a free book as well.  
Our building has invested in webcams for all of our SmartBoards this year. We plan on using them at the beginning of the year to hold book discussions with classrooms from another elementary in our district that is 15 minutes from us. The principals of our buildings are working on bridging the distance gap between buildings in order to expand each buildings reading community. We will be reading and discussing the same book, which every family will get a free copy of in order to promote reading and discussion at home as well. This will be a great chance to show students the importance of connecting with others and how to do it through technology.
Other Thoughts from Ch. 3   
I love when Donalyn Miller states on pg 100 that "Reading is ultimately a social act." How true! I can not imagine reading and never discussing it or never sharing what I have just experienced with others. I hope that all of my students will take part in the social act of reading at least while in my classroom and hopefully continue the practice into their adult lives. However, if this is to happen, I must not only show them during the confines of our classroom, but also within my own life of wild reading. I want to discuss with my students all of the reading interactions I have taken part in this summer and share with them the passion that I have rediscovered. I want to show them what I have done on GoodReads, Twitter, and now on my new blog. I want them to understand that as someone who is constantly learning, I too take part in educational discussions such as #cyberPD. I can only do these things by having an open and honest conversation with my students about our reading lives and looking carefully at the activities and assignments I give them. Are they showing my students what a wild reading life looks like or are they "busy work"?"We must consider whether school and classroom reading initiatives and assignments support students' development of wild reading habits or hinder them." (pg 139)

Chapter 4: Wild Readers Have Reading Plans  
I must admit that this is probably the area in which my wild reading life has always been weakest. Although I have often had a couple books sitting on my nightstand in a to-be-read pile, I more often than not simply read one book straight through before starting another or thinking about what I will read next. In high school my preference leaned heavily towards all mysteries by Agatha Christie and my plan simply consisted of reading through all of her works, especially Hercule Poirot books. When I started college, my reading life became largely dormant and I read only a few small series now and then.  
Since reinvigorating my wild reading life, I am excited to help my students do the same. My current goal is to read through all of the new books I received at the end of last year (about 25) before adding them to my shelves. I am also reading through many of my students' favorites that I've never read. I want my students to see that I care about what they like to read and that I am knowledgeable about these books too. If I am to teach my students to be wild readers with plans, then I must live that too.  
One of my favorite ideas from chapter 4 is that students must slowly build stamina for reading goals. Donalyn Miller says that "For students struggling to finish books or commit to reading, setting small goals helps them achieve success quickly and rack up positive reading experiences, which feed more reading." (pg 144) How true! Runners don't immediately run successful 5K races when they've never been a runner before and students shouldn't be expected to go from learning to read to reading extensively and for prolonged periods. Stamina in any form must be built through practice and through small steps towards the goal. Read a little longer each day, and eventually they'll have the stamina to read the whole 30 minutes or to read all 300 pages. Try to push students who struggle to read through their plans or their committed readings and they may never gain a love of reading.
I am excited to see where the rest of 2014's summer #cyberPD takes me and what having my own blog will do for my learning and collaborating!

Starting My Blog

After taking part in just the first week of #cyberPD this summer, I decided that I needed to start my own blog. It will be easier to link my extensive ramblings this way, rather than in the comments sections. I also think that it will be a good thing to write about the extensive professional and pleasurable reading I have been doing. I want to collaborate, share, question, and curate with all of those out there who share my love of learning.