Children's Books

Friday, March 25, 2016

That Darn Captain Underpants

It's been almost a month since I wrote a post about trusting readers and giving readers book choice. I had been nagging a student about his reading choices to the point that he had just stopped reading. Then I read Donalyn Miller's book, Reading in the Wild, and saw her in person. Her quote, "When you diminish the reader's choice,  you diminish the reader." really hit me hard. All my nagging about choosing more "complicated" books were diminishing my readers. I decided that I would stop nagging my readers and trust my readers with their book choices.

Back to my reader... he told me that he really felt like he wanted the finish the remaining Captain Underpants books before he could start reading something different.  I told him I trusted him and would support him in any way possible to meet this goal.  That meant I took him to the school library to find Captain Underpants #9. He started reading, and he didn't stop this time. I went to the public library and checked out books #10, #11, & #12. Then he finished #11 and started #12. I couldn't believe it! This student was really reading again. He was engaged with his book almost all the time now during independent reading time.  He was meeting his goal. That darn Captain Underpants had helped my friend see himself as a reader who could make a goal and reach it.

Now I started getting nervous. My friend was almost finished with the entire Captain Underpants series! What in the world was he going to choose to read next? It had been easy when he knew there would be another book in the series to choose from. His teacher and I were working to come up with books we could build for his next preview stack, but something even better happened. Our Captain Underpants expert heard a book buzz about Raina Telegemeier's Smile from a fellow classmate. He decided that he would give Smile a chance.  He didn't need a suggestion from me. He was doing what readers do. He was taking a recommendation from a peer. Thanks Captain Underpants for helping my friend grow as a reader. Thanks for helping me trust my readers. They know what they need, and they know what they want.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Teachers Who Read

In Reading in the Wild, Donalyn Miller says, "The most effective reading teachers are teachers who read."  I agree with Donalyn's  (yes, I feel like we're on a first name basis now) statement.  I am more effective as a reading teacher when I am reading a lot.

This week at my school everyone has been talking to students about their reading plans for Spring Break.  All of the students are expected to participate in the Spring Break Reading Challenge. Kids have been checking out tons of books from the school library.  Teachers are helping kids fill their backpacks with reading materials so nobody goes without books during our break.

I wondered if the teachers also had a plan for Spring Break reading. I know I have a bag full of books, but I didn't really have a plan. I also hadn't made my intentions public.

So I created a staff Spring Break Reading Challenge.  I wanted each teacher to choose a book from his/her library that they had never read before, read it over break, and think about a student they can recommend the book to. I was really nervous. Would people think I was being pushy? Would anybody else join me?

I ran my idea by two of my colleagues. They were so supportive and encouraging that I decided to give it a go. (One friend actually had the same idea, and we hadn't even talked about it. CRAZY!!!) Right now we have about 1/3 of the staff that have signed up for the challenge.  To be honest, I'm kind of disappointed. I was expecting more teachers to join, but I have to remember that all the books that are read are going to impact students. Every book that is read by our teacher will lead to more effective reading instruction. Our kids will be the winners in the end.  You can find a copy of the challenge at challenge doc .

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Learners, Learners Everywhere

   Learners are everywhere in our schools.  We tend to think of learners as only those little ones sitting at desks and tables, but learners are everywhere.  They are even the big people teaching the classes and leading our buildings.
     Today I was so excited to share with four of my school's teachers as they started their blogging journey.  I shared with them my (limited) knowledge about how to use Blogger. They came ready to work, create, and grow.  We ask our students to do this every day, and I find it invigorating when we as teachers do the same.
     These brave learners took a chance to try something new.  They had some great ideas to share, and we taught each other a lot through the process of working together.  I can't wait to see where our journeys go.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Book Buzz Lottery

    Each year we celebrate Read Across America Week with guest readers.  Usually I have fun as a guest reader by choosing some of my favorite picture books.  I would take the books into classrooms, read my books, and then take the books with me. Yeah it was fun, but did the kids have an opportunity to read these books after I left?  Not really unless they went to the library and found them.  I wanted to approach my guest reader opportunity differently this year.
     I remembered something I'd recently heard from Donalyn Miller.  She suggested giving a book buzz to the students and then keeping a list of students who want to read the book.  Then students can take turns reading the book, passing it to the next person on the list after they finished.
     I looked through my bins of books and found three books to share with the kids.  The books would appeal to both boys and girls, and most were the first books of a series we have in the school library. (I also gave the librarian a heads up with the titles I was buzzing so she could support us.)
     Guest reader day came, and I got ready.  I cut up a bunch of square pieces of paper and wrote each of the book titles on a plastic baggie. (You can see this on the picture.) I read a couple chapters in each of the books. Next came the part that made the books even more special.  I gave each student 2 of the square "tickets".  The kids wrote their names on the tickets and then used the tickets to enter the lottery to be the first person to read each book.  It was interesting to watch the kids. There were three books to choose from, but they only had two tickets. Decisions. Decisions.  Some kids put both tickets in the bag of the book they REALLY wanted to read.  A couple kids only used one tickets, and some divided among two choices. The big drawing occurred, and the lucky winners were thrilled. I told the kids not to worry if they weren't chosen. The classroom teacher would keep the bag and draw another name when the book was available again.
     I checked back with the classroom on the following Thursday to see how the kids were doing with the books.  One book was on its fourth reader.  Another book was on its third reader.  The Book Buzz Lottery was a success.  Kids were introduced to some new books, and it sparked interest in many students.  I'll be using it again next year for sure.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Something to Tweet About

     This past November I was encouraged by a fellow educator, @kara_welty, to start using Twitter.  I added the app to my phone and got started.  Kara gave me some suggestions, and encouraged me not to deactivate my account when I was frustrated by all the emails.  (She helped me straighten out my settings.)
     I've been tweeting occasionally and stalking a lot of educational chats. Twitter gave me the opportunity to follow some of the fellow educators I admire. It has really helped me broaden my PLN, and it has supported much of what I hold dear.
     This past Sunday I found something cool on Twitter and thought, "I wish I could share this with more of the fellow teachers in my building." So I asked my principal if I could offer some 30 minute work sessions before school regarding Twitter and Blogger.  My principal was supportive and gave me the green light. Wednesday morning came, and my principal along with three fellow teachers came to get their Twitter accounts set up.
      I'm so proud of my brave colleagues who went out of their comfort zones and tried something new. There are so many great things happening in our school and lives. We should be proud and ready to share. So if you have something tweet about you can catch me at @MsLaurenMertz.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Taking Away Levels

    Look closely at the picture. (No, really look.) I was undoing some work that I thought I was pretty good at.  Today I peeled off several stickers that alerted my readers to the levels of some chapter books.
     I'd spent time looking up book titles and matching them to the reading level of the book. In the past, I'd look up the level and write it on a sticker.  Then I'd tape the sticker onto the book.
     I was going to be the guest reader in our second grade classes, and I wanted to buzz three books in each classroom.  My plan was to have the kids participate in a book lottery after I previewed the three books.  I didn't want book levels to play into the decisions the kids made. So I started peeling off those stickers.
     Book Buzz time came, and I read the first chapter or two from 3 books.  You know what? Nobody once asked what levels the books were. I saw some interesting things during the book lottery, and some book buzzes worked better than others. (Another blog about that will follow...)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Awaken the Reader

     If I am being really honest, sometimes my reading life is like a sleeping lion. I can fall asleep and not read for days (even weeks).  Life passes me by without a thought about all the books that I am missing.
     Then, something wakes up the reading beast in me.  I feel hungry and can't wait to get another book in my hands.  I pour over the pile of books waiting for me to pick the best one.  I spot the prey and spring into action.
     I'm an adult, so I know how to jump in and out of a voracious reading life.  My job is to help my students jump in.  How am I helping them awaken their inner reader?  I am awakening readers by listening to what they say when we have reading conversations.  I listen to the truths they share.
     Sometimes I have to do the hunting for them and present them with several books to sink their teeth into.  Other times I only need to give them a little nudge in the right direction.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Door in the Wall

The Door in the Wall
by Marguerite De Angeli
1950 Newbery Medal
121 pages
Rating 2 stars

Robin, the son of a great lord, in medieval England finds himself in the need of kindness from strangers.  Robin suffered from some sort of illness that causes him to be unable to use his legs.  He is taken care of by some monks that help him grow mentally, emotionally, and physically.

This short chapter book was a quick read filled with dialogue with old English dialect.

I have a difficult time deciding who would enjoy reading this book.  It could be used as a read a loud in order to expose children to the historical fiction genre.  The book is relatively short for a chapter book which is a positive.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Trusting the Reader

     I recently read Donalyn Miller's, Reading in the Wild, and it is having an impact on how I'm working with readers.  I have been conferring with 4th graders during independent reading time within the reader's workshop.  It's been a challenge because so many of the kids I'm working with are experts at fake reading. 
     I've been bugging several of the boys because all they want to read are Captain Underpants books.  Now don't get me wrong.  I understand why the kids enjoy those books, but I didn't understand why they were so reluctant to read something a little more mature. So I continued to nag...and real reading wasn't happening.
    Today I decided that I was going to trust the reader.  While I was talking with one student I asked him why he wasn't reading.  He was so honest.  "Reading is boring.  I really don't like it.  I read a little bit, but then it gets boring. Reading isn't fun." OUCH!!!  Reading is boring?!?
     After more honest conversation he told me that the last time he wasn't bored while reading was when he was reading the 8th Captain Underpants book.  So what does this reader need?  He needs what he wants...Captain Underpants #9.
     So it's time for me to trust the reader.  He is choosing the book he needs.  The book he needs is the book he wants.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Thank You, Donalyn Miller

     I was so excited to hear a presentation this afternoon from Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer and  Reading in the Wild. Her presentation was Voice and Choice:  Fostering Reading Ownership.  Here are just a couple thoughts I came away with:

  • Classroom Libraries
    • Classroom libraries need to be made up with books that will meet the needs of the students where they are. It can't be books that, "I wish my kids will be reading at the end of the year."
    • Diversity, Currency, and Organization should be what we are looking for in the classroom library.  Donalyn talked about culling books from our classroom libraries if they are not being read by students.  This is an area that is really hard for me.  Getting rid of books feels like giving away gold.
    • Rethinking how my library is organized- Right now my library is mostly organized by level.  This only promotes student choice  based on book level  I want to encourage students to make book choices by series, authors, topics, and genre.  My classroom library needs an organizational makeover.
  • Leveling Books
    • My favorite quote of the day was, "Systems are scaffolds.  Scaffolds are temporary and meant to come down."
    • Leveling books is a system we use to help guide teachers as they choose texts for various uses.  Leveling systems are not meant to be a label for a child or the only way kids choose the books they read or don't read.
    • My job is to help students use book levels as a tool in their early reading lives, but then it is my job to help students learn to how they can choose just right books for themselves.
    • I don't want my students to think of themselves as levels.  I want them to think of themselves as readers.
  • Benefits of Self-Selected Reading
    • Allows kids to value their decision-making abilities.
    • Fosters their capacity to choose appropriate reading level.
     My next decision is how I am going to share this information with the other teachers at my school.  Thanks, Donalyn, for giving me so much to think about.