Posts Tagged: Reading

In the Classroom
Developing Lifelong Readers Before It’s Too Late
November 30, 2017
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Developing Lifelong Readers Before It’s Too Late

Casey Ward
@caseytward 

In 2015, the percentage of American adults who read for pleasure fell to its lowest ever mark. Books, especially complex works of literature, are being ignored by a large portion of our population. Worse still, those citizens who hold only a high school diploma are three times less likely than those with a college degree to have read a book in any format in the past 12 months. Only 60% of high school graduates reported reading a book “in whole or part.” While we may assume the best - perhaps they joined the thousands of others who abandoned Ulysses after the first 300 pages - it is far more likely that their reported reading consisted of a few recipes from a Bobby Flay cookbook.
In the Classroom
Classroom Library Beginner’s Guide
December 22, 2016
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Classroom Library Beginner’s Guide

Natalie Coleman
@NeasColeman

Cardboard Library   As a brand new teacher, fresh out of college and trying to build a classroom before even receiving my first paycheck, the only library I had to offer my students within my classroom walls was a cardboard box of all the age-appropriate books I owned. My entire collection consisted of a dozen or so books I’d accumulated during my adolescent literature class in college and a small handful of my own books I had read as a middle schooler years ago, many bearing my own juvenile signature—complete with a heart to dot the i—scrawled in the front cover.

For that first year, I lent books out of that cardboard box haphazardly, not even keeping track of who borrowed them, and the next year I started with an even smaller box of books to share. While our students are fortunate to have a hard-working librarian who provides them with access to great books, I still wanted to have books to share with them in our own room. My cardboard “library” just didn’t send the message I wanted to send in my classroom about how important and enjoyable reading is, so each year, I have worked toward the goal of building my library and refining how it’s organized and operated.

I still have a long way to go to have the classroom library I dream of sharing with my students, but I’ve come a long way from that original cardboard box and want to share some of what’s helped me most with other teachers building their own libraries.

Getting More Books

  • McKay’s—As Tennessee teachers, we are so lucky to have McKay’s in Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. (West Tennesseans, I’m sorry you’re left out. Believe me, this store is worth a road trip to Nashville!) At McKay’s you can buy used books at amazing prices. I’ve snagged multiple books for my classroom for nickels apiece, and $1-3 is a typical range for what I spend on individual books from the large selection of  young adult novels. You can also trade books for credit, and over the years, I’ve turned many old college textbooks and books I’ve finished reading into new-to-us books for our classroom. I’ve also had people occasionally donate books that I appreciated but that weren’t right for my students; taking those books to McKay’s has made those donations into books my students love reading.
  • Thriftbooks.com—I discovered this website just this year, and I’ve already bought dozens of books for our class from the site for not much money at all. This website is a treasure of used books, with many popular young adult titles for under $4. Shipping is free for orders over $10, and you earn rewards as you spend. Hardcover books are often the same price as paperback copies, so I usually order the hardcover so they’ll last longer.
  • Scholastic—When I buy new books, I buy them from Scholastic. I can order them online with my Reading Club account and earn points for free books and can even earn more points when students and parents purchase books through Scholastic using our class code. I also love to go to Scholastic Warehouse sales and stock up on books at huge discounts. My favorite purchase from a warehouse sale is our class set of the entire Harry Potter series for only $35!

Keeping Books

  • Contact Paper—My favorite summer and winter break “school work” (that gives me an excuse to watch movies in my pajamas) is covering any newly purchased paperback books with contact paper. I’ve been doing this for several years now, and the few hours that it takes a couple times a year pays off by keeping the books nice. Many of the books in my original cardboard box library fell apart completely within the first few years, but since I’ve started using contact paper, even books that were a bit worn when I bought them used have lasted for years and are still holding up great.
  • Organization—Right now, my library is still small enough to organize by the basic genres of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and I have a fourth category of “challenge” fiction books, which includes classics and higher-level books. I use different color stickers to indicate the genres and also write the first letter of the author’s name on the sticker so that I can keep the books in alphabetical order by author on the bookshelf. I learned after a few years that this method works best if I put the sticker on the book before I add the contact paper because the contact paper prevents both the sticker and the written letter from wearing off. Teachers with more extensive libraries than mine have more sophisticated organization systems with more genre categories, but this seems to work well for a smaller collection.
  • Documentation—There are all kinds of brilliant ideas out there for effective and efficient classroom library checkout, and I have tried a few, but I admit, I am horrible at being a classroom librarian. The best strategy for me has been creating a notebook for students to use to sign books in and out themselves. Here are the Classroom Library Info Sheet and Classroom Library Book Check Out Log I use. This system keeps me from having to oversee everything while still keeping documentation of who has each book. Periodically, I check my inventory (or have students help me) by checking off what’s on the shelf compared to the master list of books I keep. Using the letter stickers to keep the books in alphabetical order helps speed up this process. Now, I just use a spreadsheet to keep a master list of books that we have in our library, but I also recommend the Booksource app for teachers who are better at being classroom librarian than I am. Its barcode reader makes adding books to the class inventory as easy as snapping a picture, and it can be used for electronic check-out and check-in too.

An Always Growing Library

It may seem small to more seasoned teachers and book collectors, but I’m proud that our classroom books finally overflowed my two school-issued bookshelves this year and am excited for the challenge of figuring out what to do with all of the new books we get. What seems like a small start or a small addition will make a big difference over time, and the important thing is making our students’ lives more rich with literature, even just a few books at a time.

Natalie has taught seventh grade language arts at Shafer Middle School for six years and was named Shafer Teacher of the Year for 2013-14. She sponsors the school literature and arts magazine, was a TNCore Learning Leader for 2014-15, and has served on district planning committees and as part of the Mid-Cumberland CORE Region Teacher Roundtable Discussion. Natalie graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2009 and was awarded Peabody College’s Kevin Longinetti Award for Outstanding Secondary-Level Teaching. Outside of school, she tutors for Christian Women’s Job Corps of Middle Tennessee, where she has volunteered for seven years. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom Professional Learning
One-to-One with Technology: What Does it Look Like?
December 20, 2016
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One-to-One with Technology: What Does it Look Like?

Jessica Childers
@JDouttChilders

To be ready for the jobs of the future, students must learn to use technology. David Warlick, an influential educator and author, wrote, “We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world.” For the past three years, our school has worked to become one-to-one with students and technology.

This year, at our school, every classroom has a full set of Chromebooks or Macbooks. Students have a Gmail account with access to the G-Suites programs. They are able to understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create using the technology in the classroom. Teachers have created lessons, posted them on Google Classroom, and assessed student learning using this technology as well. However, this looks different in every classroom, and most teachers have found what works best for them. I have heard from some teachers at other schools that they have been given a cart of Chromebooks with no training. Often they are afraid to dive in and try new things with students, fearing failure. Here’s what technology use looks like in our 5-8 middle school:

In an English/Language Arts classroom, the teacher has posted a PDF file on Google Classroom. The students open the file using the Chrome add-on Kami which allows them to annotate directly on the document. Before, the teacher would have needed to make 100 copies and ensure each student has the right colors of highlighters. In another classroom students are practicing for a vocabulary test that is coming up on Friday by using Quizlet, Quizlet Live, Flocabulary, Kahoot, and Quizizz. With these programs, the students can receive immediate feedback about their answers and the teacher can formatively assess their learning. Also, most of the students enjoy these programs because they are set up like games and competitions.

In a Science and Social Studies classroom students are creating one presentation using Google Slides about animal adaptations and another about important battles from the Civil War. They are collaborating with their partners by sharing the slides through Google Drive and giving feedback to each other to improve the finished product. Students research their topics using the internet and add images and videos to their slides. When finished, the students present their slideshows to the class. The teacher uses a rubric to evaluate their slides, presentations, and group work. Once all the presentations are complete, the class is quizzed about highlights from the slideshows.

In a Math classroom, the teacher has posted four videos to Google Classroom. These videos are created by Khan Academy and linked through YouTube. Students are given one week to watch all four videos, which lets them see the lesson presented another way. Once they have watched the videos, students must complete three assignments on IXL.com. Each time a student enters an answer on IXL, they get immediate feedback about the response and are given the correct path to solve it if the answer was wrong. Students must write down the problems from IXL, show work and answers, and turn in their papers to the teacher by Friday. The teacher still uses direct instruction, group work, and discussion to teach. However, much of the practice is moved from worksheets to online programs that assess the same skills.

All teachers still have the autonomy to teach their classes the way they see fit. Most teachers still use direct instruction daily with students. What has changed most for our school is the work that students are producing. Instead of making a poster, students can create a slideshow; instead of hand writing an essay, students can type one; and instead of doing a worksheet, students can practice online. As our school becomes more comfortable with the technology, the teaching and learning will only continue to improve and help students learn skills necessary for their future.

Jessica has taught middle school math in Putnam County Schools for the past 7 years. She first worked at Avery Trace Middle School teaching 6th, 7th and 8th grade math. Then she moved to Cornerstone Middle School, which is now Upperman Middle School, to teach 5th grade math. During this time, she has served as the 5th grade team leader, mentor teacher, 2015 school level Teacher of the Year, digital transition team member and mathematics instructional specialist. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Multidisciplinary Studies – Middle School and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, both from Tennessee Tech University. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom
Ten Tips for Creating a Culture of Reading in your Classroom
August 5, 2016
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Ten Tips for Creating a Culture of Reading in your Classroom

Originally posted and featured at Classroom Chronicles.

Jarred Amato
@jarredamato

As we arrange our classrooms, finalize lesson plans, and reluctantly re-set our alarms in preparation for another school year, I wanted to offer advice to teachers who are hoping to instill a love of reading in all of their students, whether they’re in first grade or twelfth. As I enter my eighth year in the classroom, I firmly believe that the best solutions are often the simplest, especially when it comes to reading.

BoysreadingIf teachers and leaders commit to creating a culture of reading in our classrooms and schools, the results will follow. And by results, I’m not just talking test scores, although those will certainly improve, too. Research shows that students who identify as readers are significantly happier, less stressed, more empathetic, and ultimately far more prepared to succeed in this crazy thing we call life.

There’s no question that selling today’s students (and adults, for that matter) on reading is harder than it’s ever been. Books face a number of formidable opponents, most notably the smartphone. However, rather than admitting defeat to the likes of Instagram and Pokémon Go, we have a responsibility to help all students realize that reading can be far more enjoyable, and beneficial, than any iPhone app or video game. We know the unfortunate reality if we don’t.

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as we begin another successful school year:

1. Instill a growth mindset in your students. I constantly remind my students that reading is just like exercising. The more you work out, the stronger you become. The more you run, the faster you get. The same is true with reading. Good things happen when you read all the time, and it’s nearly impossible to improve when you don’t.

Amatoreading12. Give students consistent time to read. I dedicate the first 20 to 30 minutes of every block to independent reading of self-selected books, and my students and I wish it could be even longer. Students crave routine, and by providing them with consistent time and choice, I have seen their reading attitude, stamina and ability improve dramatically. In the beginning of the year, start with 10 minutes (the same way you would start by running a mile before trying to run a marathon), and then add time as students’ stamina increases.

3. Give students choice. I’d have a much harder time selling students on the joy and value of reading if I forced all of them to read the same book at the same pace in the same place, regardless of their interests or ability level. But, by introducing them to novels by the likes of Kwame Alexander, Sherman Alexie, Kiera Cass, Suzanne Collins, Walter Dean Myers, Matt de la Peña, Sharon Draper, John Green, Khaled Hosseini, Marie Lu, Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, Veronica Roth, Rainbow Rowell, Gary Schmidt, Paul Volponi, Jacqueline Woodson, and Markus Zusak, my students end up reading more than they ever had before.

4. Be a reading role model. How can we expect students to love and appreciate reading if we don’t? Our passion and excitement for reading is contagious, so be sure that your students know you’re a reader and book fanatic. During independent reading time, I conference with students about their books, make recommendations, give book talks, motivate reluctant readers, provide positive reinforcement, and often, simply find a spot in the room to read alongside them. Amatoreading2

5. Create a nurturing reading environment in your classroom. Start with an accessible and inviting library, appropriate lighting, and comfortable seating. If students read better on the floor or standing up, let them. Another non-negotiable is absolute silence. If we treat reading time as sacred, students will too.

6. Help students set personalized reading goals. Reading should not be a competition. However, most students respond well to a personal goal, whether it’s to read a certain of number books or words, improve their reading level by a certain number of grades, or finish an entire series by the same author. Help students set these goals, and then check in frequently with them about their progress.

Amatoreading47. Celebrate reading. We glorify athletes with pep rallies, yet our readers tend to walk through the halls virtually unnoticed. That needs to change. We have to be better about acknowledging and appreciating these students. Often times the only rewards that are needed are more books and more time to read. For example, last year, our school’s two reading marathons, where more than 40 students and teachers gathered in the library to read after school from 2:30 to 10:00 (with small breaks for snacks and prizes every hour) were a huge success.

8. Know your students and their books. Given that one of our primary tasks should be connecting students with books they don’t want to put down, it’s important that we a) read a lot ourselves, and from a wide variety of genres, and b) talk to our students constantly about their interests, hobbies, favorite authors, challenges, goals, etc.Amatoreading3

9. Encourage reflection. I believe there is tremendous power in having students reflect periodically on their reading progress. Sample questions include: In what ways have you improved as a reader this year? What do you like most about reading? What challenges do you still face as a reader, and what can you do to overcome them? What can Mr. Amato do to help you succeed as a reader? In your opinion, why is reading important?

10. Don’t give up. No, not even on the kid who picks up a new book from the shelf every day or goes out of his way to tell you that reading is boring. Be patient, look for small wins, and remember that it’s never too late for someone to become a reader.

Jarred Amato is a high school English teacher passionate about instilling a love of reading in students and improving literacy outcomes in our state. He recently finished his first year at Maplewood High School after teaching eighth grade English at Jere Baxter Middle Prep for six years. Jarred currently serves on Nashville’s Teacher Cabinet and in 2015, he received the MNPS Blue Ribbon Teacher award, as well the Teacher of the Year award for his school. Jarred has served as a Tennessee SCORE Educator Fellow and currently serves as an America Achieves TN Ed Voice Fellow and as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

In the Classroom
My Reading Journey: Reflecting on why I read (and why I teach)
July 15, 2016
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My Reading Journey: Reflecting on why I read (and why I teach)

originally posted on A Look Inside Mr. Amato’s Classroom and featured on TNEdReport.com

Jarred Amato
@jarredamato

Growing up, I moved a lot. First, it was from Rhode Island to Massachusetts in the middle of Kindergarten. Then, it was off to Vernon Street in first grade and Austin Street in third before settling in on Jasset Street in fourth.

Despite the constant transition, I always felt at home with books.

The first book I remember reading on my own was Bears on Wheels by Stan and Jan Berenstain. I couldn’t tell you what it was about, or exactly how old I was when I read it, but I’ll never forget the sense of pride and accomplishment I felt when I finished it.

From that moment forward, I was hooked. From the Boxcar Children and Hardy Boys to everything by RL Stine and Matt Christopher, I devoured one book after another. With no smart phone or computer to distract me, most of my early childhood was spent either on a field or court, or curled up somewhere with a book, newspaper, or magazine.

Sundays were always my favorite because it was my mom’s day off from work. She would usually grab breakfast from Dunkin Donuts along with a copy of the Boston Globe, and I would spend the rest of the morning pouring through the sports section, reading every article and memorizing the league leaders in batting average, home runs, and RBIs.

During the summer, we would pack a cooler and make the hour drive to the beach, where I’d lay on the blanket with a book mom had recommended, stopping only for some body surfing, whiffle ball or a trip to the ice cream truck.

I also have fond memories of the public library, where I’d walk down one aisle after another in search of books to add to my stack before finding a cozy spot to hide for the day, and the local Barnes and Noble, where instead of buying a book, I’d take it off the shelf and read it in the store before putting it back.

Sometimes I wonder: Why did I read so much?

Maybe it was because books took me places, real and imaginary, that I knew I’d never be able to visit in person. Maybe it was because I found characters that I could root for and identify with. Maybe it was because reading helped me relax when I was upset, and allowed me to escape without actually running away (although I tried that too, but never for more than a few hours).

Maybe it was because reading was something that my mom and I could do together. Maybe it was because it helped me realize that I wasn’t alone, and that my problems weren’t so bad after all. Maybe it was because I saw books as the great equalizer. Maybe it was just because I was bored, and didn’t have anything better to do.

But, I think that the main reason I loved reading was that it made me feel smart. And as someone who grew up in a neighborhood where most kids didn’t go to college, that mattered a great deal to me.

It’s no surprise, then, that I always loved school. Yes, I was that kid who enjoyed homework and cried if I didn’t earn all “S+”s or “As” on my report card. As I look back on my elementary experience, a few things stand out:

One was that I had some pretty amazing teachers, who not only believed in me, but were also experts in their craft. Two, my teachers never told me my reading level or assigned me a test-prep worksheet, but because I read all the time and received great instruction from them day in and day out, I always breezed through the MCAS, Massachusetts’ standardized test. Three, reading and writing were always linked.

For example, I remember publishing my first book in third grade. In fact, I can still recall one of the lines (“I jumped as high as a kangaroo”) because Mrs. Madsen was so proud that I had used a simile. The fact that my teacher believed that a scrawny eight-year-old with a bowl cut could be a serious author, I started to believe it, too.

One more thing I appreciated about elementary school: we always had choice. Sure, teachers made recommendations, and I participated in lit groups with classics such as Mr. Popper’s PenguinsShilohTuck Everlasting, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, but for the most part, I read what I wanted to read. And I loved it.

That changed in middle school, and certainly in high school. To be sure, there are many books I’m thankful my teachers made me read: To Kill a MockingbirdNightOf Mice and MenTheir Eyes Were Watching GodCatcher in the RyeA Separate PeaceThe House on Mango Street, and The Great Gatsby, to name a few.

But, I’m also certain that I would have read more often, and enjoyed reading more, if I was given choice. Instead, as my schedule became busier – sports practice, homework, TRL, and the emergence of AOL Instant Messenger — I learned how to BS my way through English class. With the help of Sparknotes, I was able to write killer essays on symbolism in The Scarlet Letter and the role of women in The Odyssey without ever opening the books.

While my love of reading faded in high school, Mrs. Smith’s Journalism 101 class inspired me to keep writing. As an athlete, I appreciated Mrs. Smith’s no-nonsense approach and tough love; she had extremely high expectations and had no problem letting you know when you failed to reach them.

It was under her wing, as a member of the school newspaper staff, that I learned how to write a lead, conduct interviews, take notes, check facts, and meet deadlines. I’m still convinced that the college essay I wrote – about balancing my time as sports editor and student-athlete, while trying to give back to my mom, who had sacrificed everything to raise my brother and me – was the main reason I got into Vanderbilt University.

In college, I quickly realized that I was much better at reading and writing essays than I was at memorizing formulas in Calculus (I think my only “F” ever) and Econ. However, it wasn’t until I read Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities in a course on educational inequity in America that I knew I wanted to become a teacher.

Upon graduation, I said “yes” to the first school that offered me a job and haven’t looked back since. As a middle school – and now high school – English teacher, I have had the privilege of falling in love with reading all over again. Even more rewarding is the opportunity to share that love and passion for reading with my students.

I know what the research says: that today’s teens are texting and snapchatting more, and reading less. There is no question that reading faces more competition than at any point in history.

But, in many ways, that’s what makes my job so fun, and so fulfilling. The competitor in me revels in the opportunity to prove to students that reading can, in fact, be more enjoyable than Instagram or YouTube.

The fact that there are so many phenomenal Young Adult authors out there writing books that have a way of affecting all students (and adults) certainly makes my job of creating confident and capable lifelong readers easier.

I’d have a much harder time selling students on the joy and value of reading if I forced all of them to read the same book at the same pace, regardless of their interests or ability level. But, by introducing them to novels by the likes of Kwame Alexander, Sherman Alexie, Kiera Cass, Suzanne Collins, Walter Dean Myers, Matt de la Pena, Sharon Draper, John Green, Khaled Hosseini, Marie Lu, Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, Veronica Roth, Rainbow Rowell, Gary Schmidt, Paul Volponi, Jacqueline Woodson, and Markus Zusak, I’ve got a chance.

Offering my students choice in what they read is only one piece of the puzzle. I must give them consistent time to read in a calm and comfortable environment. It’s also my responsibility to provide my students with the same love, support and encouragement that my mother and my teachers gave me.

This year, I got a bit emotional when one of my ninth-graders, beaming ear to ear, revealed to me that he had just finished a chapter book on his own for the first time. I could see in him that same sense of pride and accomplishment that I felt reading Bears on Wheels twenty-something years ago.

And I knew, from that moment forward, he was hooked.

Jarred Amato is a high school English teacher passionate about instilling a love of reading in students and improving literacy outcomes in our state. He recently finished his first year at Maplewood High School after teaching eighth grade English at Jere Baxter Middle Prep for six years. Jarred currently serves on Nashville’s Teacher Cabinet and in 2015, he received the MNPS Blue Ribbon Teacher award, as well the Teacher of the Year award for his school. Jarred has served as a Tennessee SCORE Educator Fellow and currently serves as an America Achieves TN Ed Voice Fellow and as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.