What Teachers Say about Books They Teach

In July 2013, Bob Probst and I posted a survey on SurveyMonkey.com asking teachers in grades 4-8 to tell us about their teaching of novels and chapter books.  This survey was a slightly modified version of a survey we had first conducted in 2008.  We hoped that the current survey would tell us something about the novels finding their way into classrooms, about the approaches teachers were taking to the instruction, and about the influence of the Common Core State Standards.  What follows is a look at some of the data.

 How many books are we teaching?

We received 435 responses, mostly from teachers with 6 to 20 years of experience.  Of those 435 teachers, 426 responded to the question that asked how many novels or chapter books were taught during the school year.  Of that number, about 90% reported that they teach at least one novel a year.  About 20% reported teaching four a year.  We were surprised that 10% — 41 teachers – did not teach any novels or chapter books at all and just as surprised that a little over 10% reported teaching more than seven books in one year.

Who chooses the books?

 Most of the teachers responding choose the books they will teach, with 60% apparently having great autonomy and another 28% required to choose from a list established by the district or at the school level.  Only 2.2% reported that they had no choice whatsoever.

What’s the criteria for choosing books?

We were especially interested in the criteria teachers employed in choosing books for their classes.  To over 50% of respondents, the potential for student enjoyment was the single most important criterion.  Of somewhat lesser significance were the elements or standards the novel would enable them to teach, the literary quality of the books, and the theme.   Only a few—4%—choose a book for the genre it would enable them to study, and only one solitary teacher chooses the novel for author study.

How are books being taught?

We were also interested in how novels/chapter books were being taught.  We offered respondents a variety of scenarios from which to choose.  We found that about 34% of the respondents said that they introduced the book, gave some structure over how much should be read, and then had large or small group discussions about each section.   We found that the same number responded that they introduced the book and then read the book with the class either through read-alouds or listening to portions on tape.

What books are being taught?

Many of the books we inquired about in our 2008 survey are still being taught.  The Giver is still the most commonly taught of all the young adult novels we listed, and none of the other titles had vanished from the list.  Teachers still teach the titles that appeared in the list resulting from our earlier survey.  Here is that 2008 list as it appears in Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading:

What new titles have you added?

There were some new titles, however, to add to our list.  Some are new books teachers reported they are now teaching, and some are books they’d like to teach.  Among the most popular of the new books now being taught are, listed in order of frequency mentioned:

Wonder                                                                                                                            The Hunger Games                                                                                                        The One and Only Ivan                                                                                                    The Lightning Thief                                                                                                         The Westing Game

Wonder, The Hunger Games, and The One and Only Ivan were also the three most commonly mentioned books teacher would like to teach if given the opportunity.  Other titles that appeared in that list with noticeable frequency were:

Divergent                                                                                                                         Out of My Mind                                                                                                                The Book Thief

 What changes when we look at data by grade?

When we look at data by grade level, we found that “Potential Enjoyment” continued to be the decisive factor in choosing a book.  While we’re still culling data by grade level, here are some first results:

Most commonly taught books from the list provided

4th Grade:  Because of Winn Dixie                                                                                         5th Grade: Bud, Not Buddy and Number the Stars                                                                 6th Grade: The Giver and The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963                                             7th Grade: The Giver and The Outsiders                                                                                8th Grade: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Giver, and The Outsiders

Mostly commonly taught book that was not on the list provided

4th Grade:  Wonder                                                                                                                5th Grade: Wonder                                                                                                                  6th Grade: Wonder                                                                                                                   7th Grade: Wonder and Hunger Games                                                                                8th Grade: Hunger Games

Most common length of time spent teaching one book

4th Grade:  3 weeks                                                                                                                 5th Grade:  3 weeks                                                                                                                6th Grade:  4 weeks                                                                                                              7th Grade:  4 weeks                                                                                                              8th Grade:  4-6 weeks

How has or will the Common Core State Standards affect your teaching of novels/chapter books?

When we looked at information about the effects of the CCSS, as many teachers reported that it would not affect their teaching of novels/chapter books as reported that it would.  Those who reported teaching 1-3 novels a year thought they would continue teaching that number.  Those who taught more, feared that they would be unable to continue teaching as many.  An overwhelming majority of respondents reported that the focus on nonfiction, more than anything else, would change their teaching.

Final comments

Many teachers offered comments, but one resonated with us and we want to share it here: “I teach novels not because the CCSS says students need to learn to read texts closely or learn to find details or learn something about the author’s craft.  I teach novels because I teach kids and I want kids to love to read.  And if they are going to love to read, they need to read novels.  They need to read some they’ve chosen; some I’ve chosen; some that are hard; some that are easy; some that make them laugh; some that make them cry.  We’ll read some together, and they’ll read some on their own.  We read novels because novels take us places we’ve never been and let us be people we are not.  That’s why I teach novels.”

We agree.

 

Thoughts on the Hobby Lobby position

Dear Hobby Lobby Owners,

I shopped at one of your stores once.  To be honest, I’m not a very artsy-craftsy type of person, so no longer shopping there won’t change my life much at all.  But there was that day when I wanted something for my Christmas tree and your store was near and so off I went.

I loved the wonderful Santa Clauses every place.  They were such fun and the prices were great, too.  And the elves and flying reindeer–those were plentiful and they certainly helped get me in the shopping spirit of the season!  I don’t remember seeing anything to do with the birth of Christ, but I bet there was a crèche someplace, just under the Santa statues, I’m sure.  And there in the far corner, on one small shelf being readied for the next big retail season, I saw a wonderful Easter bunny.  It’s always such fun when the holiest of days in the Christian calendar is remembered with the tale of a rabbit delivering brightly colored eggs!

But, I think what caught me most were your low prices. That was much appreciated.  Of course, when I turned over the Santa I bought, I did notice it was made in China.  I didn’t think much of it at the moment because, frankly, I buy a lot of things that are made in China.  Actually, I know many people who buy things made in China even when their attitudes toward religion and rights of the individual don’t match those of the Chinese government.  What bothers me is that your rejection of individual freedom seems to be consistent with China’s rejection of individual freedom.

China certainly is in favor of birth control and the Chinese government certainly ignored what everyone understood was happening with infanticide. I’m not suggesting that you or your company known as Hobby Lobby support this abhorrent practice; in fact, there is outstanding evidence that you and your family value the sanctity of life beginning at conception.  I applaud your individual convictions.  And this is where it gets tricky.

Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, your very generous health care insurance provided benefits that included contraceptives for women and that included Plan B pills.  It was only after the passage of the A.C.A that you reexamined your coverage and decided that the Plan B pill was against your religious convictions.  Now that’s interesting and your post-Obamacare decision certainly looks political, something like using religious beliefs to promote a political agenda, but let’s move on.

This is where you claim that because of the First Amendment you shouldn’t have to provide coverage for what you consider to be an abortion pill (which it is not), something you are devoutly against.  It’s that dear First Amendment that grants us religious freedom that you’re hanging your hat upon.  The First Amendment that protects all of us: the David Green family, the John Doe Family, the Jack and Joe, and Jane and Jill families, the never-going-to-go-to-church, the Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, twice-a-year Christian, and tree-worshipping families.  You, Mr. Green, seem to believe that letting your company provide insurance that provides coverage for a particular type of contraceptive means you personally are now endorsing abortions, something against your individual religious beliefs and your First Amendment rights, something that infringes upon your company’s religious beliefs and its First Amendment rights.  It’s hard to see a company as holding religious beliefs.  Faith and belief seem to be about free will and it’s hard for me to think of a company as having free will, but our conservative Supreme Court leans toward granting companies human status, so that’s that.

But it sure seems silly for you to think that as an agent of Hobby Lobby if the corporation provides coverage that includes the Plan B pill that I should interpret that to mean that you, David Green and all your family, individually support this practice.  Hobby Lobby’s insurance coverage that includes Plan B pills no more means you endorse abortions than a dental package that provides for root canals means you want all employees to go get a root canal, or coverage that provides for maternity costs means you want all Hobby Lobby employees to go get pregnant, or coverage that provides for catastrophic care means the company hopes a catastrophe hits each worker.  The corporation called Hobby Lobby (not you the owner Mr. Green) provides insurance.  Not care.  Not religious beliefs.  Not mandates on how an employee spends that insurance.  Just insurance.  How the employee chooses to use that insurance to get the care he or she chooses to get is up to that employee.  The choices that are made are between the employed and his or her God or god or mother or whoever it is that employee feels he or she for some reason owes accountability to.  That’s what freedom means.   If you, Mr. Green, were personally writing the check for someone’s insurance I might have to rethink my thoughts; but, it’s a corporation called Hobby Lobby that writes the check.  But, back to China.

You are in favor of your religious beliefs—which you claim cannot be separated from your company—setting the parameters for what can and cannot be included in insurance coverage.  That sure feels a lot too much like imposing your beliefs on those of others.  And, for me, that’s too close to the Chinese government imposing its beliefs on the beliefs of its people.

Being such a Christian company, I’m sure you’ve figured out how to reconcile doing business with a country that marginalizes women, restricts a family’s right to choose how many children it will have, lets workers work in factories with slave-like conditions, and imprisons those who claim to be Christians.  Maybe you’ve confused turn the other cheek with turn a blind eye…

Perhaps since my last visit there you’ve stopped doing business with your Chinese partners.   If so, good for you!  I wouldn’t know that, because, like I said, I’m not too artsy-craftsy and I won’t be heading back to your store to see what the bottom of those Santas say.

But if you haven’t, then, I’ll repeat, I can’t quite reconcile your willingness to buy products from a country that obviously rejects your religious beliefs while being unwilling to let your employees reject yours—unless you like the idea that you and the Chinese government hold similar beliefs about the rights of workers.  There is that to consider.

What I’m hoping you’ll do next is show some good judgement here, better judgement than what I think we saw from five of the Justices today.  Now that the Supreme Court has said it’s your choice, please make the choice that respects your female employees’ rights. Please say “Gotcha!” and show the nation that there really is a distinct difference in the respect of individual rights between China and Hobby Lobby.  Stand up and say you wanted the right to make a choice and now that you have it, you will extend the same right to your employees.

That might get me back through your door, because, after all, those Santa Clauses and Easter bunnies you sell to mark those holy days really are great.

 

Ten Tips for a Successful PD Convention

School dollars are precious and getting administrators to release some of them to support travel to state and national conventions can be difficult.  It’s not that administrators don’t want teachers to go forth and learn.  It’s that travel is expensive and, let’s face it, sometimes when we return we head right back into the classroom and keep teaching.  Sharing what we’ve learned while away gets pushed to the back burner.

So, how do we make the best of our travel to conferences?  How do we prove to administrators that those dollars spent on just you will benefit many?  Below you’ll find my list of ways to turn any conference that one teacher attends into a positive learning experience for those who didn’t get to travel with you.  The best list, though, is the one you’ll make with your colleagues.  Talk with each other about how you can best share what you will learn while away.

So whether you’re packing up for the IRA convention in New Orleans that begins in just a few days or simply need to keep this list to pull out the next time you ask your principal for travel funds, I hope it offers you some tips for turning any convention into a collaborative experience.

My IRA questions1) Know thyself.  Before you get to the conference, make your own list of questions you hope will be answered.  As you choose sessions, keep this list in mind and that will help you choose where to go.  Here’s my list that will go with me to IRA.

2)   Be open to new ideas.  And though you have that pre-made list, be willing to explore new ideas.

3)   Carry the questions of your colleagues with you.  Before you leave, ask your colleagues who aren’t attending what information they most want you to bring back. When you return, follow-up with “Sam, you really wanted information on helping kids summarize.  Here’s a link to a website on summarizing that I think you’ll find helpful.”

4)   Keep folks in the loop.  Provide daily updates to your school colleagues via your homepage, email, Twitter, or Facebook so you share your learning.  Explain what you’ve learned, mention a link you’ve discovered, discuss a title you hope all will read.  (Maybe don’t mention the fab meal you and friends had in the Quarters.) Start your own hashtag so teachers in your district can follow you at the conference: #KBeersIRA14 for instance!

 

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5) Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Take photos, lots of photos.  Take pictures of handouts, of a PowerPoint screen, of you with a presenter, of the cover of a new book you hope all will read.  Upload often.  Here I’ve grabbed two of my favorite writers–Alfred Tatum and Jackie Woodson–and asked them for photos with me.

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6)   Do two-minute interviews.  Use the video camera on your smart phone and ask your favorite literacy leader to share two minutes of his or her time to answer one specific question.  Remember two minutes means that you can’t ask “What do we do with kids who struggle to read” but you can ask “What’s one tip that helps struggling readers tackle hard vocabulary?”  I find most folks will happily share two minutes.  It’s the 10-minute answer that gets hard when everyone is trying to make it to the next session.

7)   Send your principal a daily update.  That’s right—daily.  That doesn’t mean a summary of sessions you attended.  It does mean, “Today I learned three new strategies that we can all use to help students with close reading.  Please think of a time I can share this information with the language arts and social studies teachers before school begins next year.”  In other words, you’re showing the principal that his investment in your PD is really an investment for many teachers. Along with this is tip #7.5:  When you get back, write thank-you letters to your principal, superintendent, and perhaps school board.  Thank them for supporting your professional development and share a little of what you’ve learned and a lot of how this will change your teaching and students’ learning. Make sure they know how you will share with others what you have learned.

8)   Get to sessions early.  Plan your days and know where you’re going.  Session fill up early so get to rooms as early as possible.  Did I mention that early is important?

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9)   Go to the general sessions.  These sessions are almost always great, so don’t miss them—even if they are first thing in the morning!

 

 

 

10) Be inclusiveLook for the teacher who is sitting alone and sit by that person.

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Conferences are in part about meeting new folks.  But they can be lonely places if you’ve traveled there on your own.  So extend that hand of friendship we hope our students extend to one another.  A shared conversation while waiting for a session to begin or asking someone to join you and others for lunch makes the day better for all.   This is a photo of teachers taken during the Boothbay Literacy Conference Bob Probst and I run each June.  These teachers traveled to this conference each knowing no one. By the end of the week, they were fast friends.

 

Four Guidelines for Summer Reading

In my previous post, I wrote about the research that links enjoyment of reading to reading achievement.  Perhaps one of the most enjoyable times to read is over the summer.  No reports. No tests. No vocabulary lists.  Just getting lost in a book.  Sadly, most kids don’t turn to summer reading–even when it’s a school requirement.  What happens when kids don’t–or do–read over the summer?

1)   Kids who don’t read during summer vacation lose two to three months of reading achievement. (“The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores”)

2)   Elementary students who read 10-15 books at home over the summer gain as much in reading achievement as students who attend summer school. (“Addressing Summer Reading Setback Among Economically Disadvantaged Elementary Students“)

3)   Middle school students who read only five to six books over the summer don’t suffer from that summer reading loss. (“Summer Reading and the Ethnic Achievement Gap“)

Those three important studies are enough for me to wonder how we get kids reading during summer months.  I’m hopeful that you and your colleagues will spend some time over the next couple of weeks talking about this important issue.  Be sure to mark your calendar for May 18 at 8 pm ET when Kelly Gallagher and Donalyn Miller host a Twitter chat about this topic.

In the meantime, here are my four guidelines for summer reading.  These are my thoughts, my parameters, created with my biases, my hopes, my ideas. All of us want to do far more than boost reading achievement with summer reading. We want to boost reading enjoyment.  I hope this short list acts as a springboard for discussion in your own school as you and your colleagues think about how to encourage summer reading that’s mostly about developing a love of reading.

 Read Whichever Books Look Good to You

Summer reading isn’t about reading a certain number of titles from a list someone else has compiled.  It’s not about finishing A Tale of Two Cities before the first day of tenth grade.  It’s not about reading books at a certain Lexile level or AR level.   It’s not about preparing for a test, keeping a dialectical journal to be submitted, or logging a certain number of hours or titles in a journal that will eventually be graded.

Summer reading is about holding a book in your hands.  I suppose that also means an e-reader, but e-readers just don’t come with that great book smell; they don’t have the heft of a paper book or the worn cover you see each time you open it again.  E-readers certainly don’t have the grainy feel of paper against your fingers, so I’ll stick with a book.  Summer reading is about kicking off shoes, staying up much too late, reading all day with no one caring that’s what you’re doing.  It’s about rushing through one to get to the next or lingering as long as you want.  It’s about vicarious experiences that let us become a girl in an attic, a boy in the wilderness, a kite runner in a far-away land.  And that type of reading begins with personal choice.

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Personal choice, though, doesn’t mean we teachers shouldn’t make suggestions.  For your students who do not see themselves as readers, personal choice could become overwhelming.  How do you make a choice when you don’t know genre, don’t know authors, don’t know how to decide what you want? Students want that independence of making their own choice, but our least skilled readers are also the least skilled at making a choice.  Respecting students’ need for independence while simultaneously helping them make a choice is key.

In August 2013, Dick Allington wrote a smart article that reminds us of the problems with recommended- and required-reading book lists.  I agree with his comments.  But suggestions titled “My Favorite Authors” or “The Books I Think My Fifth-Graders Will Love” or “The Titles Last Year’s Ninth Graders Said They Loved the Most” or “OMGosh I Can’t Wait to Read These Books” are quite different from a list of fifty titles with the directions to “Read 10.”

A final word about lists that help students make a choice:  add a short description of each book.  Don’t put Hatchet by Gary Paulsen on your sixth-grade list without adding,  “This book is about a boy near your age who is lost in the wilderness.  It is exciting and will make you wonder if you, too, could survive a plane crash and being alone with only a hatchet to help you survive.”  Such short descriptions become invaluable when late in July one of your students finds the list in the bottom of his backpack.

 Nudge Students Throughout the Summer

Encouraging students to read over the summer is good, but encouraging them throughout the summer is even better.  You can keep interest going in several ways.

1) Do you have a webpage at your school?  Keep it updated throughout the summer with your “I Just Finished and LOVED!” list and make sure your students know you’ll post updates weekly or every other Tuesday.

2) Do you have a Facebook page set up for communicating with parents/students? Some of you will gasp in horror, while others are nodding, “Yep, I do.”  Update that page often with books you’re reading that your students would enjoy and ask students to respond with what they are reading, too.  That specific tag, “Amanda, I can’t wait to read what you have to say about Wonder!” encourages that two-way conversation.  You’ll be surprised at the number of students who aren’t Amanda but still offer their comments as well.

3) Some teachers mail postcards to their students over the summer telling them about the next YA or children’s book they just read.   Some give stamped and addressed postcards to their students so their students can write back to them with books they’ve read.  If you’re reluctant to give out your home address, use the school address and then just stop by there occasionally to check on mail.

Whether you use Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, your school webpage, or handwritten postcards you mail to students, these gentle nudges about what you’re reading and thoughts for what they might enjoy next help keep them reading all summer.

 Give Kids Permission to Read Easy

In this time of the Common Core State Standards, with the push for rigor, with new Lexile bands that suggest our students should be reading more and more complex texts, with the rush to make sure kindergarteners are college and career ready, let’s remember that rigor resides in our interaction with a text and not in the text itself.  A student lost in a book, measuring himself against the main character, arguing with a decision made, laughing at antics, and holding his breath in the harrowing escapades of the hero, is reading with far more rigor than the student trudging through a book that makes little sense or the book that is filled with unknown vocabulary and syntax that leaves him convinced he does not like to read.  Summer reading – when the teacher is not around – is not the time to assign the difficult texts you want to help students learn to understand next year.

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     Celebrate Reading Series Books

            Nod your head if you like to read.  I suspect all of you did that.  Now think back to your childhood reading and nod your head again if, at some point, you read a series book.  Perhaps you are of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew generation.  Or maybe you’re part of the Babysitter Club decade.  Maybe you grew up with a boy named Harry Potter or you ventured into a land called Narnia.  Whether your series was The Little House on the Prairie, Encyclopedia Brown, Animorphs, Goosebumps, Dear America, Twilight, Hunger Games, Boxcar Children, or The Bobbsey Twins, there is a great chance that if you’re a reader today, then as a child you read a series book.

In fact, the research on this is clear: a critical step in becoming a lifetime reader is, at some point, being a series book reader.  This correlation between series books and lifetime reading was examined as long ago as 1926 in a study of over 36,000 readers.  The conclusion reached, in 1926, when there were few series books, was that these books are an important part of establishing lifetime reading habits.

The benchmark work on this relationship, though, is found in a book titled Voices of Readers: How We Come to Love Books by G. Robert Carlsen and Anne Sherrill.  In their study, Carlsen and Sherrill also found a strong positive correlation between avid reading as an adult and series-book reading as a child or teen. Perhaps it’s the comfort of knowing the characters that makes them so enjoyable.  Perhaps it’s the cliffhangers at the end of each chapter that lure us to read one more page that makes them so enticing.  Perhaps it’s because as we move from one book to the next, we learn more and more about this author’s style and begin to feel as if that next new book is an old friend.  Whatever the reason, we love them.  And because we love them, we get lost in them; we turn page after page; we wonder if Nancy will escape from the hidden attic even though the fact that the next five Nancy Drew books sit beside the bed is a clue she does.  But because we love them, we read page after page after page.  We develop stamina.  We become readers.

And This All Leads to my Hopes for Summer Reading

I hope your students will enjoy summer reading. I hope they will have the experience of losing themselves in a book and at the same time, I hope they will find themselves in a book.  I hope they finish a book they loved with more understanding of themselves, the people around them, and their world.  I hope they discover that in opening up a book, they are opening themselves up to more:  more experiences, more knowledge, more empathy, more what ifs and more could be’s.

 

 

What the Research Says about Enjoyment of Reading and Reading Achievement

Kylene in front of class - Version 2

Yesterday I noticed a post from my friend Teri Lesesne on Facebook and so, like I do with any post from Teri, I stopped to see what she was offering. It was a link to a research study.  ”Seriously, Teri,” I thought.  ”Research on a Saturday?” But if Teri thought it was worth sharing, then I figured it was worth reading.  And so I opened the link and began reading.

Wow! What a find. It was a smart study that examined the top performing nations on the reading portion of the PISA–the international achievement test–to discover why they are top performing. Specifically, the researchers looked to see if any particular behaviors or attitudes accounted for high performance.  The “most striking” finding was that across all 13 of the top performing countries, the “best predictor” of reading achievement was 1) enjoyment of reading; and 2) the use of reading strategies to summarize a text.

I was not surprised at that first finding since that just makes sense: If you like to do something, then you’re probably more willing to do it often.  And as you do it often, you get better at it.  My colleague Bob Probst and I have been talking about the bi-directional relationship between will and skill for some time and we’ve never seen a teacher who didn’t automatically nod his or her head in agreement at this.

Skill and Will screen shot

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the push from the CCSS to push kids into more complex texts has meant in many places teachers are feeling the pressure to always focus on a lesson to be learned and to use a book that might be way beyond students’ “wantability” and certainly “readability” level. I’m hoping this research will remind everyone that we can’t build competence without also focusing on confidence and confidence is about enjoyment, about belief that you’re good at something.  It’s hard to care about being good at something you don’t like.  And of course building enjoyment without building the skills to keep getting better doesn’t make sense.  It truly is a bi-directional relationship: improving will builds skill and that improved skill fosters will.

Maybe this is why Penny Kittle‘s newest text Book Love is so important; it’s why Teri Lesesne’s Making the Match, Donalyn Miller‘s Book Whisperer, and Jeff Wilhelm‘s You Gotta Be the Book are all must-reads.  These books help us nurture that will to read.

The focus on summarizing was a bit surprising.  Then I thought about a strategy I love to teach kids: Somebody Wanted But So. This summarizing strategy has always made an immediate difference in students’ understanding of a text. It’s easy to teach and once learned, kids can use it with just about any text.  If you’ve not taught it to kids, I’ve written about it in When Kids Can’t Read.  In brief, students use those four words to help them think through the events in a text.  Here’s an example of one student’s Somebody Wanted But So statement (3rd column) after reading The Gettysburg Address.

850 Gettsburg rereading by student

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a photo that shows a class effort to use SWBS to think about Macbeth.

Photo of SWBS in a classroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

As summer heads this way, what if kids went home with “You’ll LOVE These Books” bookmarks and the knowledge of how to easily summarize what they’re reading?  What if throughout the summer students could turn to their school homepage to post their comments (or videos) about what they’ve been reading and there also find more great book lists that their peers suggest?  What if next year as a nation we talked more about why we love to read and less about Lexiles?  What if becoming a nation of readers was about first becoming a nation that valued a child’s interests over a child’s test scores?

Dear policy maker, are you listening?  Want to improve how students score on a reading test? Well, first make sure they love to read.  The rest will be easier.  Not easy.  But certainly easier.

 

Teachers: Our Nation’s Hope Whisperers

Matt said he would never finish high school, but he did.

Katie said she just didn’t understand anything at all about geometry.  But she passed her end-of-year exam with a B-.

Alejandro said he couldn’t read, but his seventh grade teacher told him she’d help him learn.  And he read 22 books his seventh-grade year.

Elisa said she was too clumsy to make the basketball team.  But her coach said she just needed practice and she made sure Elisa had a lot of time on the court and Elisa made the team and then made it off the bench and made the winning points that last game of her junior year.

Marcus said he didn’t have anything to say, so he put down his pen and then put down his head. But one teacher told him every day for twenty days in a row that she thought Marcus had much to say.  And finally Marcus wrote about his dad who “swished through his life like a basketball swishes through a net. Silent but counting just the same.”

Jayson was afraid of recess because he had no one who would play with him. So Ms. Olson wore her tennis shoes and asked him to play tag with her.  Every day.  And on the seventh day, all the kids who had joined them now wanted Jayson to play with them.

Mr. Johnson gives his band kids his phone number “so if you end up needing help at any time and for any reason you can call me.”

Ms. Everett meets kids the night before big unit tests at Starbucks to help anyone who shows up.

Mrs. Allen always keeps a loaf of bread and and a jar of peanut butter in her desk drawer.  Help yourself whenever you’re hungry.  And yes, of course you should take an extra sandwich home.

Darien said school was dumb.  School was boring.  School was really, really stupid.  He said it over and over to anyone and everyone.  Then one day, he yelled at his teacher and said she was dumb and boring and really, really stupid.  And the teacher put her arm around him and said, “Well, what I really need is your help.  Could you help me figure out why this class isn’t working?  Could you help me make it better?”  And he stood there shocked and said, “Aren’t you going to send me to the principal’s office?”   And she said, “Nope.  I want you to stay here and help me.”  And so he stayed.  And little by little Darien shared how scared he was of everything because everything was just so hard.  “I can’t do it,” he kept saying.  “You can’t do it yet,” she would reply.

That’s what teachers do.  They add the word “yet”  giving kids confidence when kids don’t have it—yet.  Teachers are hope whisperers.

Every day, even though kids often don’t show it, they enter our nation’s classrooms full of hope.  Hope that they’ll do better, hope that they’ll be liked, hope that they’ll both stand out and fit in, hope that no one will discover what hurts at home, hope that someone will discover what hurts at home, and underneath it all—the swagger of the senior and the defiance of the eighth grader and the can’t sit still hopping up and down waving my hand for the teacher to call on me second grader—is the hope that my teacher will like me.  It only takes one to whisper hope in an ear.  One teacher.  One gentle reminder that what you can’t do, you simply can’t do yet.

Reading Nonfiction

My colleague Bob Probst and I have been thinking a lot about nonfiction as we work on our next book which for now is titled Notice and Note for Expository Texts, the companion to our book that focused on literary texts:  Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading.  Part of the research for this new nonfiction book meant each of us ramped up our own volume of nonfiction reading.  As a result, in the past year or so, I’ve learned a great deal about many topics including Sumerians, planets, plagues, early Civil Rights advocates, the dust bowl, volcanoes, the cotton industry, the dung beetle, World War II, photosynthesis, and wine (well, that one was for a different research project…).

For a year, at the end of each week, Bob and I would ask ourselves what we noticed about our reading of nonfiction.  We wanted to focus on what we did while reading nonfiction that we didn’t do while reading fiction.  What struck us both, no matter the topic, was the number of times we said to ourselves, “Really?” or “I didn’t know that.”  For instance, I didn’t know that the Russians landed a probe on Mars years before the USA did.  When I read that, I remember stopping and thinking, “Really?” and then doing more–going to other sites, calling my son and asking if he knew this (“Yes, Mom.  It was the early 70s. Once it landed, though, it didn’t transmit images as they had hoped it would.” I hung up and looked for someone else who, too, was amazed.  Luckily a neighbor’s daughter is only six years old.)

We want students aware of what they are discovering as they read.  We want them to enjoy that feeling of surprise, amazement, and even skepticism.   We want them to say, “Really?”  So, we worked with a group of teachers in Florida and Ohio (thank you Orlando and Akron folks!) and eventually settled on this simple note-taking template that you’ll see below.  You can download this blank template here.

Really template blank jpg from bud

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s an example of one completed by an 8th grader:

Really worksheet completed by student

 

When we talked with this student, she reported, “Sometimes I read and just turn the pages to get finished.  When I used this to keep notes, it was like I was really thinking about how what I was reading was telling me stuff I didn’t know.  I really was like, “Really?” and it helped me keep thinking while I was reading.  Now I find myself doing this even without the worksheet.”

 

 

That’s the goal of any good scaffold–to offer support until the support isn’t needed.  If your students have decided that the goal of reading is to finish, then perhaps this  template will help them slow down to focus on what they are learning, on what they’ve discovered that’s new to them.

 

TestingTalk.Org: An Invitation to Join a National Conversation

It’s that time year of again, that time when instruction in our nation’s schools halts.

DSC_0793It’s the time of year when teachers are told to put down their pencils (holding one might suggest cheating) and monitor their students (but don’t clarify confusion students encounter as that certainly is cheating).  It’s that time when students are told to log on or bubble in.

It’s testing season in the USA.

In many places these tests are new, the result of new standards.  Most teachers will say they had no say in the development of these standards, in the decision for their states or districts to accept them; most parents will say the same.

What teachers and parents can have in a say in, though, is how their students/children responded to these tests.  And so a group of us banded together and created a new website, testingtalk.org, a place where educators and parents can be a part of the national conversation about the tests given in our schools this spring.  We know these new tests will shape the education for a generation of young people.  So we believe collecting thoughtful responses from the people closest to the tests is critical.

How can you help?

1) Community offers strength.  Please help spread the word by sharing the testingtalk.org website with your network of colleagues and friends.  Ask them to share it with their friends.  To have a national response, the nation needs to know.

2) Individuals provide wisdom.  Please add your own voice to the conversation by logging on and posting your comments.  This site is our “neighborhood” so we want it to be a safe place.  If you’re more comfortable posting a comment anonymously, then check that box and your name will not be shared.  Don’t break any copyright laws by revealing specific passages or test items.  At the same time, be as specific as possible.   A comment such as “logging on was hard for 2/3rds of my students” is more helpful than “putting the test on computers was a bad idea.”  Tell about what worked with the test, “Students seemed engaged, excited to respond, and challenged but not defeated” and tell us what didn’t work, “By the second day, students were obviously finishing too quickly, checking boxes just to be done.”  In other words, this isn’t a site only for constructive criticism; it’s also a site for positive feedback.  But mostly, it’s a site for you.

Those of us who created this site did so because we believe any conversation about these high-stakes mandated tests ought to be informed by those of you closest to the test.   We hope you agree.

 

 

 

A Preliminary Report on the Teaching of Chapter Books and Novels, grades 4-8

 

A Preliminary Report from the July 2013 Survey

What Teachers Tell Us About the Novels/Chapter Books They Teach

By Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst

 

About a week ago we posted a survey on SurveyMonkey.com asking teachers in grades 4-8 to tell us about their teaching of novels and chapter books.  This survey was a slightly modified version of a survey we had first conducted in 2008.  We hoped that the current survey would tell us something about the novels finding their way into classrooms, about the approaches teachers were taking to the instruction, and about the influence of the Common Core State Standards.  What follows is a first-look at some of the data.

How many books are we teaching?

We received 435 responses, mostly from teachers with 6 to 20 years of experience.  Of those 435 teachers, 426 responded to the question that asked how many novels or chapter books were taught during the school year.  Of that number, about 90% reported that they teach at least one novel a year.  About 20% reported teaching four a year.  We were surprised that 10% — 41 teachers – did not teach any novels or chapter books at all and just as surprised that a little over 10% reported teaching more than seven books in one year.

How many books are taught in 1 year?

 

Who chooses the books?

Most of the teachers responding choose the books they will teach, with 60% apparently having great autonomy and another 28% required to choose from a list established by the district or at the school level.  Only 2.2% reported that they had no choice whatsoever.

Who chooses the books you teach?

 

What’s the criteria for choosing books?

We were especially interested in the criteria teachers employed in choosing books for their classes.  To over 50% of respondents, the potential for student enjoyment was the single most important criterion.  Of somewhat lesser significance were the elements or standards the novel would enable them to teach, the literary quality of the books, and the theme.   Only a few—4%—choose a book for the genre it would enable them to study, and only one solitary teacher chooses the novel for author study.

What's the criteria for choosing books?

 

How are books being taught?

We were also interested in how novels/chapter books were being taught.  We offered respondents a variety of scenarios from which to choose.  We found that about 34% of the respondents said that they introduced the book, gave some structure over how much should be read, and then had large or small group discussions about each section.   We found that the same number responded that they introduced the book and then read the book with the class either through read alouds or listening to portions on tape.

How I teach novels

 

What books are being taught?

All of the books we inquired about in our 2008 survey are still being taught.  The Giver is still the most commonly taught of all the young adult novels we listed, and none of the other titles had vanished from the list.  Here is that 2008 list as it appears in Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading:

 

Most Commonly Taught Novels 2008 survey

 

What new titles have you added?

There were some new titles, however, to add to our 2008 list.  Some are new books teachers reported they are now teaching, and some are books they’d like to teach.  Among the most popular of the new books now being taught are, listed in order of frequency mentioned:

Wonder            

The Hunger Games

The One and Only Ivan

The Lightning Thief

The Westing Game

Wonder, The Hunger Games, and The One and Only Ivan were also the three most commonly mentioned books teacher would like to teach if given the opportunity.

Other titles that appeared in that list with noticeable frequency were:

Divergent

Out of My Mind

The Book Thief

 

What do we see when we look at data by grade levels?

When we look at data by grade level, we found that “Potential Enjoyment” continued to be the decisive factor in choosing a book.  While we’re still culling data by grade level, here are some first results:

Most commonly taught books from the list provided

4th Grade:  Because of Winn Dixie

5th Grade: Bud, Not Buddy and Number the Stars

6th Grade: The Giver and The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963

7th Grade: The Giver and The Outsiders

8th Grade: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Giver, and The Outsiders

 

Mostly commonly taught book that was not on the list provided

4th Grade:  Wonder

5th Grade: Wonder

6th Grade: Wonder

7th Grade: Wonder and Hunger Games

8th Grade: Hunger Games

 

Most common length of time spent teaching one book

4th Grade:  3 weeks

5th Grade:  3 weeks

6th Grade:  4 weeks

7th Grade:  4 weeks

8th Grade:  4-6 weeks

 

How has or will the Common Core State Standards affect your teaching of novels/chapter books?

When we looked at information about the effects of the CCSS, as many teachers reported that it would not affect their teaching of novels/chapter books as reported that it would.  Those who reported teaching 1-3 novels a year thought they would continue teaching that number.  Those who taught more, feared that they would be unable to continue teaching as many.  An overwhelming majority of respondents reported that the focus on nonfiction, more than anything else, would change their teaching.

 

Final comments

While there’s more data to be culled, we wanted to share this preliminary if cursory glance at it, and to thank all who participated.  We’ll use this survey as a pilot, do some refining, and put it in the field again in September and we’ll continue to report findings over the next few weeks.  The comment we enjoyed the most, though, must be shared now:  “I teach novels not because the CCSS says students need to learn to read texts closely or learn to find details or learn something about the author’s craft.  I teach novels because I teach kids and I want kids to love to read.  And if they are going to love to read, they need to read novels.  They need to read some they’ve chosen; some I’ve chosen; some that are hard; some that are easy; some that make them laugh; some that make them cry.  We’ll read some together, and they’ll read some on their own.  We read novels because novels take us places we’ve never been and let us be people we are not.  That’s why I teach novels.”

 

We agree.

 

 

 

Taking On, Not Giving Up

So today begins Lent, for those who follow a liturgical calendar. In simplest of explanations, children are often taught that during Lent, those forty days before Easter, one should “give up something” so that, when Easter arrives, and that missed item is returned, it is more valued.

I think about this time of giving up something and am reminded of a blog post I saw some time ago from a teacher in North Carolina who gave up his job, resigned. Quit. He was completely fed up with a system that — in his district — was only about teaching kids to pass a test. He gave up something he dearly loved, and was very good at, to make a point.

And I think about the teachers at a 5-12 school in New York City Bob Probst and I worked with two weeks ago who told us they had to give up teaching anything new for the next month as the school was going into “lock down” and would only be reviewing for the upcoming mandated tests. For one month, students would only do test-prep.

And I think about a teacher in Arkansas I visited with a few weeks ago who was giving up a part of her salary each week to help buy clothes for some kids in her classroom who didn’t have homes, much less winter coats, that would keep them warm.

I think about the college seniors I Skyped with yesterday at Carlton college who wondered what we were giving up in our ELA classrooms when we all agreed (and why did we do this, they asked) to set aside any sort of questions that encouraged a personal response to instead embrace only “text-dependent” questions. “What have we given up?” they asked.

Giving up can mean so many different things.

And then I think a bit more about Lent. Only for children is it really only about giving up. Actually, it’s about reflecting. It’s about searching and wondering and being still and listening, but most certainly it is not only about giving up; it’s also about taking on.

This Lent — and it doesn’t matter if you call this time Lent or simply the quiet days before spring blooms in all its brilliance — this Lent, I plan to do more taking on than giving up. I plan to take on the naysayers of education, reminding them of all the good that our nation’s teachers do each day. Dear teachers, don’t you lose sight of the opportunity you have each day to make a difference in each child’s life.

I plan to take on the assumption that text-dependent questions create the self-reliant, lifetime readers we want more than any other type of question might do. Where is the research that supports this? I plan to take on the assumed authority of the Publishers’ Criteria and ask upon what research it is based.

I want to take on reminding policy makers that a test score is simply that: a test score. I want to take on reminding them that the goal of education is bigger than making someone college or career ready. Education is about teaching children so that they can become all they can be. It’s about teaching children so that they will someday become the active successful participants this democracy desperately needs them to be; so that they might become the creative, compassionate, caring contributors this society hopes they will be.

This Lent, I want to give up pessimism and take on optimism; I want to give up fear and take on hope. I want to look at each child in each class I teach as that kid who wants to be his best but just might be too hungry or too scared or too beaten by life to know how to get there and see not a sullen face, but one that if I can teach him to take on, rather than give up, will find that spring is full of hope, indeed.