Real Examples, Real Book Love

As I stated briefly in my tweets, my favorite takeaway from Penny Kittle’s chapters 3 & 4 in Book Love were the concrete examples she gave on actually teaching the practices. These are things we can put into effect immediately, because we know they’ve been tried and true in Kittle’s expertly-run classroom.

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First, one major worry of mine was dealing with the issue of judgement on our newly-learned “no censorship” policy? I thought, “What would parents say? Could I ever be under fire from administration because of books that I have in the classroom?”  Penny Kittle tells us that she has a letter to parents that they read at the beginning of every semester, explaining the details of her stance on censorship. She encourages open conversation on the subject and for parents to draw their own lines on student’s limits. However, she does not obtain every risky book that students put on the classroom “want” list. She takes into consideration the appropriateness of every book in terms of her donors, the community, and parents. She still encourages students to read books of their choice, even if she doesn’t agree to buy them.

In terms of library management, there were several practical applications that Kittle mentioned. First, she mentioned that she gave up on organizing titles alphabetically. Students found it more useful to find titles by subject that they’d chosen. Secondly, she said that any kind of checkout system she’d tried, failed. Unfortunately, she’s sacrificed a lot of books for the greater good when students fail to return them, but it’s a very real part of having a free choice classroom library. She’s prepared us for this.

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Kittle emphasizes that we must meet students where they’re at – find their interests and their abilities to sustained read and work from there. Sometimes, it may involve students reading graphic novels, verse novels, lower-level books, etc. to get a good start. However, we must pay careful attention that students are not getting stuck where they are. We have to encourage students to explore different authors and subjects and levels of reading in order to grow. This can be done with various charts, keeping track of books read, and having students fill out surveys, such as a difficulty survey that she shows in the book.

Finally, I want to end with a great quote from a student on the amazing impact of free-choice reading. I have found this to be true for myself – we cannot rely on social studies, science, etc. textbooks to educate us alone. It is only by learning the stories of fictional and real people do we learn to empathize and grow as humans. This student says, “I never would have guessed that I could learn so much just by reading novels, but I have really learned a lot.” 

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Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

It’s Monday! What are YOU Reading?

I have a load of great literature to share with everyone this chilly Monday. Variety was no issue within my reading last week, and all the completed works gave me a real sense of accomplishment, as well as an excitement for future reads!

First, I’d like to share three picture books that I read with the high school class I was observing. As an added bonus for myself in this class, I’m taking the time to familiarize myself with Junior and Children’s literature for future shared reading/read aloud experiences in my class. For more information on this practice in secondary classrooms, see this article.

First, The Great Monster Hunt was a thrilling tale that involved all species of barnyard and wild animals to solve a mystery. It was wonderfully light animal literature with humorous suspense! Next, The Pout-Pout Fish was an incredibly funny tale of a grumpy fish with a pouty face. He remains pouty until he is shocked with one huge act of kindness. I was so impressed with the clever writing in this book – it’s a great opportunity to teach alliteration, rhyme, and friendship. Last, Giraffes Can’t Dance was a beautifully illustrated book with all animal characters (once again). Giraffe discovers that he cannot dance like all the other animals at the dance party. He is discouraged, but finds his own unique way of dancing. The story promotes inclusion and strength in uniqueness, making it great for any classroom!

For my Young Adult reading, I finally finished the collection of YA short stories, Fresh Ink. Holy cow was I impressed by the diversity within this little book! It included everything from black superheroes to transgender Olympic hopefuls to a mute teenager responsible for saving a fantastical world to a couple of high school sweethearts struggling with a big move. There is something in here for everyone. In my opinion, some of the authors were weaker than others, but that’s easy to judge when each are being put on the same pedestal with writers such as Walter Dean Myers and Jason Reynolds.

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Another fascinatingly diverse book that I finished is called Dreaming in Indian. There were hundreds of writers and artists that shared their story within the hauntingly designed pages of this book. I learned so much about a vast number of indigenous people, their struggles, and how they live. I’ll add this to the “Native Author” slot on our bingo sheet, next to the book Trickster that I’ve already read. Both of these books feature many voices from Native Americans. Trickster is a collection of Native American tall tales in a graphic novel format.

I hope everyone is reaching goals, learning new things, and above all, enjoying their reading as much as possible. Have a GREAT Monday!

Banned/Challenged Books

This week in our Adolescent Literature class, we came face-to-face with the wonders and difficulties that students and librarians encounter with “challenged” literature. Challenged books are books that people have attempted to remove from library and classroom shelves. Banned books are those who have been removed altogether.

This unit of study has reminded me of the dramatic scene in the movie Footloose, where angry adults burn hundreds of books to “protect” their children and community from “harmful” ideas. It’s easy to pick up on the slippery slope that is censorship: if one person finds a single idea offensive and has it banned, where does the offensiveness and banning end?

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One thing that is most crucial to our successful teaching is the incorporation of CHOICE. This means a full choice, not a cherry-picked, influenced, hidden-away, not-available choice, but a vast array of books that inform and challenge students.

Some shocking comments on books that have been challenged or banned in America is that they are “un-American.” However, the NCTE Student’s Right to Read says, “One of the foundations of a democratic society is the individual’s right to read, and also the individual’s right to freely choose what they would like to read.” Freedom is an American value.

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Undoubtedly, some books that are out of my comfort zone fall under the LBTQ+ category. To a lesser degree (only due to unfamiliarity), I am not as comfortable reading books that concern different religions, though reading books like Persepolis are extremely fascinating to me. These feelings are mostly due to my own personal and religious beliefs, but for the sake of my future students, I am expanding my own reading and future classroom library so that all will have relatable reading materials.

As far as sharing challenged books in school, I think it’s the teacher’s responsibility to first create a caring, understanding learning environment in which to share these books. Challenged books have been a part of public school curriculum for a long time (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, etc.). I think the sharing of challenged can be expanded to suit our times and students with no problem.

 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

As the rodeo season winds up and practice has begun for my horses and I, my reading has slowed significantly. While I enjoyed being able to read much more than the required 4 hours per week for our Adolescent Literature class during the winter months, I’m also ready to be active and competitive again. Nevertheless, I never take for granted the allotted time I take out of my week for adolescent reading. Let me share what I am currently reading!

I actually strayed off of my reading plan for last week a little bit, because I was pretty excited to start my first YA collection of short stories. This particular book, Fresh Ink, “has made a donation to We Need Diverse Books,” according to the back cover. So far, I am about 75 pages in and I’ve already read thrilling and eye-opening stories about protagonists who are, respectively, Native American, openly gay, moving away from their boyfriend, desperately crushing on the cutest athlete in school, Asian, and a superhero. Each character has their own internal struggles, along with the desire to fit into a society that may exclude them. Each short story is authored by a person as unique as their characters, and we see appearances of some our favorite authors, including Walter Dean Myers, Jason Reynolds, and Aaron G. Flak.

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Next, my book club will be discussing our reading of the graphic novel, Persepolis. I am excited to read this one, as it satisfies our requirement for reading work from a Muslim author. I have never read anything from a Muslim author to my knowledge, so I’m thrilled to be expanding my knowledge and empathy for other cultures. The black and white illustrations look compelling, as they tell the autobiographical story of Marjane Satrapi as she grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. I’ll be sure to share the results with all of my followers! To close, I have already found another selling point to this graphic novel (on top of everything mentioned above). There is a Persepolis 2! Have a great week everyone.

 

Teaching Lessons From a Fourth Grader

As a bonus blog post this week, I’d like to share a lesson that I learned from a 4th grader. It helped to solidify everything that we’ve covered in the first two chapters of Book Love, as well as all the principles taught in Dr. Ellington’s class, Theory of Teaching Writing.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

At least once a week, I coach two girls: one in sixth and her younger sister in fourth grade. Both girls are voracious readers. They love it! And learning this gave me so much hope for their future. I was reminded of how much joy I found in reading at their age, before the fun was sucked out of it around eighth grade.

However, I think that the processes introduced by Penny Kittle in the first couple chapters of her book are going to allow these girls to be confident enough in their reading to actually learn from the classics when they get to that age. Let me explain.

The fourth grader, a very spunky and hilarious girl, struck up a conversation with me about a book that she had just read. She described Night Horse to me in detail. Some of those details were out of order, as is natural for an excited child, but I got a pretty good synopsis of the story. It included some heavy themes like alcoholism, separated families, and animal abuse.

I learned two things in this moment: (1) I had just gotten a “book talk” from a nine-year-old, and (2) students are far more capable of learning on their own terms than we give them credit for. If a fourth grader can handle learning about the dark themes in this book, why don’t we trust high schoolers with the same freedom? And I am guilty of thinking this way, too. We underplay students’ intelligence and responsibility, when we should be setting the bar higher for them. Students will rise to our expectations. This was such an excellent reminder for me in terms of the power of book talks and the power of our own students.

And my lesson didn’t end there! The fourth grader, now passionately talking about her reading hobby, told me that she was reading Dickinson with her tutor. I made her repeat that statement. She said, “I am reading Emily Dickinson poems with my tutor.”

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If this doesn’t serve as an example of Penny Kittle’s process of scaffolding students into reading more difficult materials, I don’t know what is. By giving this student choice in reading, allowing her time to read (her parents encourage all the kids to read in the car vs. having an iPad), and guiding her to more difficult texts, the people surrounding this intelligent young lady have created the confidence she needs to move forward with the classics. And she enjoys them!

As a final, personal lesson for me, I must always remember that I can learn just as much from my students as they do from me. I hope I’ll never forget this piece of wisdom. The conversation I just described totally blew me away, and gave me more faith in the processes that we are learning in this class.

Love Books, Book Love

The first two chapters of Penny Kittle’s Book Love were full of helpful reminders, shocking statistics, and a whole lot of hope. The further I get into my higher education, the more thankful I am to have been made aware of the practices of teachers like Mrs. Kittle, thanks to the informed instruction of Dr. Ellington. I wish that I had the time miserable time I spent in those dreary English classrooms back so that I could spend that time reading more wonderful books. Anyway, I’m beyond grateful to be able to make a difference to my future students.

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Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

The most interesting point that I took away from these first two chapters was that Kittle was not trying to do away with the classics altogether. Rather, she believes that by building students’ confidence, we can work them up to being comfortable enough to enjoy the classics we’ve come to know and love. This is easier said than done – it requires meeting students where they’re at, assessing skills and interests, scaffolding their progress and helping them to strive for greatness along the way.

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Reading VOLUME is so important. This was something strongly emphasized in our Theory of Teaching Reading class, but now I know why. I admire Kittle because she took so much time to do research on her own, and two of her findings stand out to me. One bit came from her reaching out to instructors at top universities. She reports, “He [Tom Newkirk, University of New Hampshire] said he didn’t care whether all students read any particular book, only that they read a lot.” Second, a quote from Kelly Gallagher, “Never lose sight that our highest priority is to raise students who become lifelong readers. What our students read in school is important; what they read the rest of their lives is more important.” Both quotes are so meaningful. Whether or not a student goes to college, they have the ability to continue their education through reading. They only need the inclination. We must provide that inclination.

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As a final thought, I continued watching Penny Kittle’s videos beyond what was assigned and arrived on one where she preached the importance of having our own classroom libraries. We cannot rely on our school libraries alone (unless the school has fantastic and attentive librarians) to satisfy the needs of our hungry readers. It never hurts to surround kids with more immediate literature. She mentioned that having students help choose new books for the library helps gain their interest. Additionally, hosting speed dating with books is a great way for students to get to know what’s in the room, what they want to read immediately, and have an idea for the future.

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Again, I’m feeling so thankful to be learning all of this helpful information before I head to the classroom. Some teachers have struggled for years teaching and being pushed around by the curriculum and administration. I feel so prepared, now that I am armed with knowledge!

First Chapter, First Paragraph

After visiting girlxoxo.com, I chose the most appealing tag to introduce my followers to new books. She calls it “First Chapter, First Paragraph: Tuesday Introductions.” I apologize for my ignoring of the day of the week, but I was one of many who fell ill last week and so I was unable to do homework. Anyway, I hope to introduce you to some new and wonderful books with a more personal touch. I like to think that I’m giving you the eHarmony personalization, rather than just the Tinder (judging by the cover) treatment!

I’ve got a variety of books and genres on hand, but I’ll start with the one I’m most excited to begin. It’s a new YA novel that sounds absolutely hilarious.

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The first paragraph reads, “Rule #1 in any quality heist film is Don’t get caught. So I’m quiet as I slip out my bedroom window, cross the roof in the cool darkness, and drop from the garage onto the we grass. Overhead, my parents’ lights may be off for the night, but this is a terrible idea any way you look at it. It’s stupid, irresponsible, and borderline suicidal. But I’m going anyway.” The novel is about a series of pranks among high schoolers, and doesn’t that first paragraph sound so intriguing?! One of the critics said, “I’m highly inspired to prank someone right now.”

These next few books are an assortment of chapter/picture books that are both YA literature and Junior literature. As I’ve said before, I’m trying to expand my knowledge of all sorts of children’s literature, so that I might have options for Book A Day and Read Alouds in my future classroom. I have three impactful books to share:

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We Will Not Be Silent is a true picture/chapter book about the resistant students in the age of Hitler Germany, often taking action at the risk of their own lives. This book is a Sibert Award winning book, as well as being interestingly and historically intriguing. The first paragraph reads, “Hans Scholl held his head high and his eyes fixed straight ahead as he stepped forward smartly, marching shoulder to shoulder with his comrades in the Hitler Youth.”

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Dreaming in Indian is a very uniquely designed work that features “contemporary Native American voices.” It showcases real stories of real Native Americans, their recipes, their struggles, their poems, their triumphs in a difficult world. The first paragraph of the Foreword starts with a quote, “If your imagination isn’t working–and, of course, in oppressed people that’s the first thing that goes–you can’t imagine anything better. Once you can imagine something different, something better, then you’re on your way.”

Finally, an inspiring and fresh-looking YA Novel, Unsinkable: From Russian Orphan to Paralympic Swimming World Champion. 

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The first paragraph reads, “I did not come here to be second. The water blocks out every sound, and I feel my heartbeat pulsing with each stroke of my arms. I glance over again to see the feet of my competitor, which means I’m still behind her. I did not come here to be second! This is my last thought before throwing every ounce of energy into flying toward the other end of the pool, slicing through the water, and reaching for the wall at the same moment she does.”

I hope that I’ve inspired and opened your eyes to reading some new books. I look forward to sharing my impressions after diving into these treasures!

 

 

It’s Monday! What are YOU Reading?

As promised, I finished two wonderfully written and designed verse novels in the past week. They were culturally and historically diverse, as well as informative and enlightening.

First, I devoured The Poet Slave of Cuba in an afternoon. This verse novel is so unique for so many reasons. The Pura Belpré winning book is the author’s adaptation of a real person’s life – Juan Francisco Manzano. The author writes the poems within as if they were the actual words of Juan. They could be very similar to his own sentiments, but the world will never know. Not much is known of his early life in slavery as he was obviously not able to write and keep his works. After he was freed, however, he logged his life through poetry and other arts.

I had never been exposed to Cuban slavery before reading this book. Of course, it was caught up in the horrible slavery industry that had enveloped Europe, the Americas, and Africa at the time. The book does a great job of educating readers about the historical context and the unique sufferings of people like Juan on the Caribbean island around the turn of the 19th century.

The verse novel changes narrators with almost every poem, which is something very unusual for verse novels. It added to the understanding of the institution of slavery and the relations between characters, and I would not have picked up on it if it were not for this aspect.

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To showcase the flexibility of verse novels, I’ll completely switch gears to introduce The Poet X. I was totally wrapped up in the story of Harlem teenager, Xiomara in this National Book Award winning book. She is a secret poet for a large portion of the book, writing to work through her complicated feelings toward the guys who grope and cat call at her in her high school, her strict mother, her emotionally absent father, the questions she has about religion, her blossoming feelings for one boy in particular, and her best friends that are completely different than her, one being her twin brother. Later, her English teacher and the poetry club recognizes her talent and the teen who never thought she belonged anywhere, finally belongs somewhere.

The book takes on loads of complicated themes that teens actually have to work through in many instances. As future teachers, we must remind ourselves that it is often helpful to aid students in confronting these issues instead of suppressing them. This book (and writing in journals such as Xio did) are great ways to facilitate this emotional growth.

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I’d absolutely recommend both of these books to widen your reading gaze or just to be enthralled in these spectacular stories. I will definitely have these in my future classroom library!

It’s Monday! What are YOU Reading?

It’s so exciting to reach reading goals every day, every week, every month, and every year. It’s equally as exciting to go to the library with no expectations, browse blurbs and new selections and find the next literary world to throw myself into.

Last week, I finished two books that helped me to cross off two squares on my bingo card; the nonfiction and the middle school slots.

The nonfiction book about one of the most influential stylists and designers of the times was short, informative, and enjoyable. The book’s design was one of the most palatable visual treats I’ve ever seen in a piece of literature. The chic lines and sleek colors paid homage to the subject of the book. It was brutally honest, as it painted a true picture of an imperfect icon. My only complaint is that I felt the author sometimes wrote like a newspaper article, but its simplicity was appreciated. I’d recommend this book in the classroom for students interested in fashion or famous historical figures.

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Second, I finally read my first Will James book. James is known among cowboys as the author of Smoky the Cowhorse, a classic in western literature. He illustrates his own books with authentic and wild drawings and paintings, which adds to the overall experience. He’s knowledgable in cowboy terms and helps to explain to non-western readers a cowboy’s practices. Young Cowboy was a short chapter book about Billy Roper, a young man who yearns to be horseback constantly, but must also learn to read. Luckily, his mother tailored to his interests and helped him to learn to read by looking at brands and helping him to recognize the same symbols in saddle catalogues. It was also a nice reminder to do the same for my future students – tailor their learning to their interests!

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I went to the library today, thinking of picking out one or two books, but I left with five from the Young Adult rotating collection upstairs. Up first:

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This book satisfies our requirement to read a Pura Belpré Award book. It’s a collection of poems by the narrator, a young Cuban slave living in the year 1797.

Second, I’ve seen so much about this book and it’s high time that I get it read. The Poet X follows the tears and anger and triumphs and poems of a teenage girl in Harlem.

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I can’t wait to consume these two verse novels and share my findings with my class!