Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Building your Classroom Library: Judge a Book by it's Cover


I'm building something.

It may look like I'm building a classroom library. But it's more than that. So much more.

It means so much more now. The stakes are higher. The innocence that was there in elementary, gone. The reality of their lives, with all it's struggles and heartbreaks, ever present. But there is hope. And new learning. And new meaning. I may not be able to control what is going on at home, but I can provide an experience of literacy that is fun, exciting and nurtures a love of reading. I can help them make connections to characters that display loyalty, sacrifice, perseverance and how lessons that we read help shape who we are and want to become.

What we do for elementary kids, introduce books, make it fun, do quick read alouds, make crafts, are so much more VITAL in middle school. These kids need the newest books. The prettiest covers. Education and literacy can and does change lives. Since July, we have so many students reading. Sharing. Having book conversations. Recently, during one of these conversations, several students said they wanted more historical fiction. Boys will literally say, "If you find a football book, can you get it?"

Students make different bookmarks for their current reading each 6 weeks

The answer is yes. Our school library has many books in circulation. Several of my students were waiting for certain titles, and I just told them I'd get them a copy. And that's when the snowball effect of books happened.

Students preview all new books which are usually student requests

Ask your students to pick books for your classroom library. Which books would they like to see? And get them. Find a way. I am constantly at Half Price Books & Barnes & Noble. I am also always ordering books from Scholastic.

They have such amazing deals on so many books. Barnes and Noble can offer some amazing deals as well. My go-to is Amazon and Ebay right now. I am constantly looking for the lowest price for hardcovers. Recently I wrote a grant for our grade level for more books. I also helped my sister write a grant as well for her third grade class. We were awarded about $1000 each for our classroom libraries. And what did we do with that grant?

Above picture for a third grade classroom funded by a grant

 Bottom line, pretty books, new books, amazing covers need to make a great first impression. And if you build it, they will read. Display your books. Have students preview books. Make perusing books fun, enjoyable, and while it may be hard to get books, find a way. Ask for help. Start with buying one book at a time. Ask for donations. You'd be surprised at how many good people want to help you, your students and the community.

Create attractive displays
Bookstands are $1 at the Dollar Tree

Change displays
Students actually asked for books on makeup & fashion & other things
"New" used books were $2.00 each at Half Price Books

Visit the bookstore OFTEN
You never know what will show up in the clearance section. I can find trilogies in hardbacks for $2 each! Usually, if I already have the book, I raffle off the copy to students.

Make your classroom library inviting

Preview your books with purpose
Picture on left is geared for K-5 while picture on right is geared for grades 6 & up

When we get in a new stack of books, or need to preview our classroom library for books, we do so with the purpose of taking note of which titles we actually want to read. Thus, kids make a #bookstack of books they want to read throughout the year. This can be updated every 6 weeks or every quarter. Kids love this activity because most don't know what your classroom library holds. Also, it's a good reminder of the books they haven't gotten to yet. 

Overall, we all long to go on an adventure, learn to be a better person and help our world become a better place. 

As teachers, we can help our students do that. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Dear Hate


[Verse 1]
Dear Hate,
I saw you on the news today.
Like a shock that takes my breath away,
You fall like rain, cover us in drops of paint.
I’m afraid that we just might drown.
[Verse 2]
Dear Hate,
Well, you sure are colorblind,
Your kiss is the cruelest kind,
You could poison any mind,
Just look at mine.
Don’t know how this world keeps spinning ’round and round.
You were there in the garden like a snake in the grass.
I see you in the morning staring through the looking glass.
You whisper down through history and echo through these halls.
But I hate to tell you, love’s gonna conquer all.
[Verse 3 – Vince Gill]
Dear Hate,
You were smiling from that Selma bridge;
In Dallas, when that bullet hit, and Jackie cried;
You pulled those towers from the sky;
But even on our darkest nights, we’ll keep spinning ’round.
You were there in the garden like a snake in the grass;
I see you in the morning staring through the looking glass;
You whisper down through history and echo through these halls;
But I hate to tell you, love’s gonna conquer all.
Dear Love,
Just when I think you’ve given up,
You were there in the garden when I ran from your voice;
I hear you every morning through the chaos and the noise;
You still whisper down through history and echo through these halls;
And tell me love’s gonna conquer all,
Gonna conquer all.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Middle School Architect + Rebuilding a love of reading


(student comes in after school to return a book)

Currently, I am teaching my first year in middle school.

Eighth grade.

This is my 14th year teaching. But this is the first time where my mouth has hung open in absolute astonishment. You see, I taught elementary for so long, you take things for granted.

Like, for instance, the LOVE of just learning that comes so easily with younger students. You don't have to work so hard to "hook" them. Don't get me wrong, I've taught elementary so long, I'm not downplaying the struggling readers or the reluctant readers.

But middle school is different.

I don't think I properly understood how important middle school is. When you literally, NOT figuratively, have MOST, if not all your classes, openly and honestly, DESPISE, if not call it torture, reading, you tend to take a few steps back.

Wait, what?

First, for the record, the students are AHHHHHHMAZING! I feel as though I have found my niche. But it wasn't always that way. The first couple of weeks, I felt like this wasn't for me. I'm going to be honest. I have never seen so much apathy before in kids. Don't get me wrong, these kids are good kids. Brutally honest.

"Miss, I don't like reading. Please don't make me read."

"Miss, I haven't read a novel since the fourth grade."

"Miss, are we ACTUALLY going to read? Like a novel? Can we just do worksheets?"

At first, with over 100 students, I thought this was it. I had made a mistake. Like, I literally felt sick for awhile. Why? Because I get my enthusiasm from my students. I LOVE teaching because I love the excitement THEY feel. Introduce a new book, kids LOVE it! Read Aloud? Yes, please! Students are excited, the younger they are, they don't have the social confines of being cool yet.


So, when they got depressed that I was introducing a novel, they literally groaned, and I doubted whether I could do this. It wasn't the book. It wasn't even me. It was almost a learned behavior. "We don't read" is protocol. And this is where we, and I say WE, as teachers get it so wrong.

If you want kids to read, you MUST give them opportunities to read. IN CLASS. In elementary, it's SO INCREDIBLY easy. You have them for longer periods of time. In middle school? You have 55 minutes. So you MUST prioritize. You must give them great, inspiring, amazing books to foster thought, ideas and compassion. You give them the best. Not the left overs. You build that classroom library as if your life depended on it.

Because, people, middle school libraries are almost like cemeteries for books. At least compared to elementary schools. It's not inviting. In fact, my librarian told me these kids don't read. In front of them. She told them, "If you don't like to read, I have these short stories right here! They are great for non-readers".

I'm pretty sure my mouth hung open when she said that. But at least she was honest.

So when backed into a corner, I do what I do best. I share MY love of reading. We started Wonder. I've spent so much money on books, and book shelves, it's insane. But it's worth it. Why? Because today, they were brutally honest again.

"Miss, this is the first book since fourth grade I actually finished a whole novel. Do you have the next book?"

"Miss, do you have more books like Prisoner B-3087? You do?! Can I take this home to finish it so I can start on Monday?"

"Miss, do you mind if I take one of your books home? Can I check it out?"

We write. We respond. My bellringers are out the door. I'm using thier novels as the bell ringer/warm up of the day. We look for different things in novels. Character traits, summaries, text evidence, inferences, everything. I did a quick survey.

Out of 100 students, 12 are reading books from the school library. 2 are reading personal books from thier homes. The rest? From my classroom library.

This was our "display area" for the first six weeks.

Now, we don't have a big display on the top of our shelf anymore.

And our novel? Students are loving this story of Auggies! Especially since this year, I've included videos!

Students want amazing new, colorful, visually appealing, books. I am SO THANKFUL that publishers are publishing classics with newer and modern covers. I am thankful that so many books have incredible covers. Why? Because that old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover" is EXACTLY why a student either picks something up or doesn't. They live in a world with technology and instantly getting what they need. Technology isn't always what they need. It's a tool to be used but it doesn't dictate everything. Yes, I may sound old-fashioned, but a real book gives students a sense of accomplishment. Literally having a book, is a visual reminder that they are accomplishing something. It's not in an app. It's not in a chat. Everyone can see that  you are reading, and when you are done, something happens intrinsically. We talked about it all the time in elementary. Well, you have NOTHING but intrinsic motivation up in the middle school.

Bottom line, I've learned that middle school students ARE just like elementary students. But you have to put some thought, time and even MORE love into it. In the end, its worth it. Students are crazy ready to share what they are reading. Middle schoolers are SO sensitive and LOVE when you think of them or a book they may enjoy. I don't think we give middle school teachers enough credit. This is so incredibly challenging, and I have nothing but respect for middle school teachers. But building a love of reading in middle school is worth it. I can honestly say I have NEVER felt so happy teaching students reading in my entire teaching career. I LOVE these kids and I LOVE what I do! (I just wish I had more money for books! Thank you Scholastic Bonus Points & Half Price books! LOL!)

A teacher just has to be willing to share the love of reading and be a true architect. Its just we are building a love of reading.

Friday, June 30, 2017