Matchmaking with Books

When I first started building my classroom library, I only had one copy of each title. My classes didn’t do any independent reading during actual class time way back then, so there was rarely a need for multiples of any one book. At most, I would have to replace The Perks of Being a Wallflower when it inevitably disappeared again.

Even as independent reading and choice became a bigger part of what we did in our reading classroom, it was still only by accident that I would end up with multiple copies of a single title.

Later, I read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer, and she mentioned something about having multiple copies of a single title so that students could recommend books to each other. “I want to read that book,” a student could say, pointing to a classmate’s book, and you could pull out your extra copy of The Hunger Games or Everything, Everything.

Several years ago, I ended up with several copies of Thirteen Reasons Why in my 8th grade classroom. This was long before the book became a Netflix series. One 8th grader read it, then another, until it seemed like an entire section’s worth of 8th grade girls had either just finished or just started reading it. And so each class would begin and end with my students discussing and debating Hannah and her choices.

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My current school’s ELA curriculum explicitly recommends matching up readers in pairs and small groups. This is a lot about comprehension—students can help each other clarify confusing parts as they read the same novel—but I think it’s okay to do a little book and student matchmaking here as well.

I’ve done this two different ways recently.

When a student said she wanted to take a break from her long read, I asked her neighbor, who had read two different graphic novel trilogies recently, to show her where those books were hidden. (I’ve replaced titles within one of the trilogies multiple times, so now they’re in the reserve section.) He gestured vaguely in the direction of my desk. “Tell her about the books,” I coaxed. “Help her choose.”

The two girls above were stuck between books, reading and discarding several titles. “Want to read a book together?” I asked. I showed them some titles that I had multiple copies of, and they picked one and decided how many chapters to read by the following week. And for a few days they read side-by-side. While they both ultimately decided the book was a little boring (and I agree), a few days later a different pair of students decided to read The Fault In Our Stars together.

I’m glad that I picked up two copies at the used bookstore instead of just one.

Bleeding Scream

I am in a new role this year, one that means I am removed from classroom teaching. It’s been an adjustment, but one that is going fairly smoothly. That said, any time I have a chance to be in a school, I get excited and can barely contain myself. Even if it means I’m giving a short presentation to teachers about how they can use their new laptops in their classrooms.

As I’m also new to my school division, some of the building leaders have given me short little tours the first times I’ve been in their schools. The first building I was in was a K-8 building that was a modified open-classroom building. Most rooms didn’t have doors, and many walls were “missing” as well. The result was a really powerful experience as I would walk by “classrooms” and hear bits and pieces of the learning going on around me.

When I walked by one of the grade 5/6 areas, I saw the students all looking at their teacher, and I heard him say two words: “Bleeding Scream.”

I had to stop the person giving the tour, to make sure I heard that correctly. Sure enough, I did not miss those words. He was about to read a chapter of Wonder. For those who know the book, that is the chapter. The chapter when Jack Will says those words.

Wonder
Do you know the book? One of my favourite read-alouds.

I didn’t want to distract the students from that moment, so I continued on.

But those kids stuck with me. I’ve never read the book with that age level before. How did they react? What did they think? Were they surprised? Did any of them feel sick to their stomachs, as I did when I first read that scene?

Fortunately, the answer was but an email away.

I asked the teacher those very questions. His response was better than I had hoped. Sure, he let me know their thoughts. But he also invited me to come talk with them myself.

So yesterday, I had the opportunity to put on my teacher hat and read a section of Wonder to a group of students who were so invested in every word, I could have read with them for hours.

Some incredible things happened as a result of that experience:

  1. I was able to connect with my teacher self a little more deeply, feeding that fire.
  2. The classroom teacher got to a) have a well-deserved break and b) see his work validated by a colleague.
  3. The students got to see that this practice — reading a book and talking about it — is not something limited to them and their teacher. It’s something adults do because it’s a good practice.

As administrators, sometimes we can lose sight of the impact our actions can have. We get caught up in what we see as important, forgetting that the most important thing is the students in our care. Though they might not be directly in our care most of the time, they are still the only thing that matters in this profession.

The look on their faces, seeing someone from the division office (perhaps capitalized Division Office in their minds) step in and do what their teacher does with them every day, was one of wonderful realization. This isn’t just their teacher doing something good. This is something of value beyond their learning space. This is something that matters. They are someone who matters.

Some will say the time spent with these students could have been better spent. I suppose I could have worked some more on the database of instructional videos I’m creating. I could have met with my team members on a project we are working on. I could have done some more professional reading.

But that stuff will happen. That’s a required part of my job. What’s important are the things that aren’t required. For 30 minutes at the end of the work week, I chose to be with students and bring some validation to a teacher and his practice.

I can’t think of a better use of my time.

I don’t want to sit here and put a false air of importance on myself. But it is important that those of us on the administration side of things realize the “official” nature of our presence, whether we want it or not. How are we using it to validate and appreciate those around us? Worse yet, how are we using it to invalidate or depreciate those around us?

Let’s use the little bit of power we have for good, as often as possible. Because those students? The looks on their faces? I’ll never forget it.

Of course, doing a one-time visit is nice. But it is that much better when we can repeat these things. When we can really show the students how important they are. The students recognized that. They asked me to come back as I was leaving. And sure, that felt nice. As much as I validate their work, those words of theirs validated mine.

But to come back. To show them that yes, they are important. Yes, they matter. That is key. They are worth my time, no matter how busy I may be.

Can You Dab?

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“Can you dab?”

A fourth grade boy sitting twenty-some rows back from the front of the auditorium asks. Eyes sparkling, face beaming, perched on the edge of his seat, he waits.

“Can I dab?!” grins award-winning author Jason Reynolds, wearing a knowing expression that humorously reads ‘how-old-do-you-think-I-am?’

“Yeah! Can you dab?!” the young boy repeats.

Jason walks up the aisle, dragging the microphone cord, as middle school heads whip around to follow his every move. He is dressed head to toe in black, his dreads tumbling over each other. Reaching the boy’s row, Jason looks over to him. This fourth grade boy, now standing, is
enraptured
engaged
enthralled.

This fourth grade boy, who is black, gazes up at this adult black man who says:

“Yeah, I can dab.”

One heartbeat flutters. One breath exhales. One boy wonders…

He need not ask for proof. Jason bows his head into his elbow. He dabs. The crowd goes wild. Clapping. Smiling. Cheering. Dabbing back. It’s a response, a conversation, between 450 middle school students and a man who, through one seemingly simple question, let them know that they were
seen
heard
acknowledged.

* * * * *

For several months, I had been co-organizing an author visit to our school district with Jason Reynolds. We were lucky beyond measure to get the opportunity to host him. If you’re not familiar with Jason, visit his website, read his poetry, hear his story. His literary accolades and honors are stickered across the covers of his books for young people:
Coretta Scott King
National Book Award
NAACP Image Award
Kirkus Prize
Schneider Family Award

Jason’s good fortune as an author of children’s literature was a long time coming before it was finally realized. Way before the awards, the book tours, and the bestselling novels, there was his childhood in Washington, D.C. A childhood that drives him to create authentic characters, stories, and voices for his books, putting the “real” in realistic fiction. He stood in front of our students and told them stories, his true stories about
eating ramen noodles and generic peanut butter
dying hair with kool-aid
popping cassette tapes into Walkmans
playing basketball

And then there were stories that made us gasp, laugh, sigh…think.

He told them that he didn’t read until he was 18 years old. Our reading workshop trained, book loving kids were horrified. This was unthinkable. Why, they asked. WHY didn’t you read?! Because the only books that were available to kids like me were “classics” like Moby Dick…and I couldn’t relate, because there weren’t any whales living in my neighborhood, he explained.

He told them that one of the first cassette tapes he ever bought was a rap album by Queen Latifah, and it changed his life. The more he listened to her, the closer he grew to realizing that her words, her raps, were poetry. This epiphany began a daily practice of writing poetry, as he told himself, “I’m going to be Queen Latifah when I grow up!”

He told them that he moved to New York to pursue his writing dreams.

He told them that he was living in his car a handful of years ago.

He told them that he was working in a clothing store a couple of years ago.

He told them that through all of this, he was writing. Two pages a day. Squeezing in time to write in the edges of his days.

He told them that he was on the verge of giving up his writerly dreams, but was prompted to start writing stories and characters who
looked like him
talked like him
acted like him
lived like him

He wrote through a lens of “everyday diversity”, showcasing characters with authentic
voices
families
challenges
interests
stories,
creating books to read about black people outside the oeuvre of “boycotts, bondage, and basketball”, because “black kids do more than play basketball”, Jason told them. He knew children of all kinds needed to be able to hold up a book as a mirror and see themselves in it. And he was determined to tell those stories.

* * * * *

“Curry or Jordan?” another black student asks Jason, challenging him to name the greatest basketball player of all time.

“Ooooh, you’re asking me difficult questions,” Jason plays along.

After a long pause…

“Jordan.”

And the crowd goes wild.

* * * * *

While Jason was presenting, I was kid watching. Scanning the faces of our very diverse district, I saw one face after another light up, engage, and connect. That was when I realized the profound impact this author visit was having on our children.

When our student raised his hand to ask if Jason could dab, he wasn’t really asking “Can you dab?” He was wondering
Do you see me?
Do you hear me?
Do you know that I have stories, too?

And Jason, a man who mirrors him in many ways, wordlessly responded, in one gesture
I see you.
I hear you.
I am writing my stories for you.
(Jason Reynolds is the author of When I Was The Greatest, The Boy in The Black Suit, All American Boys, As Brave As You, The Track Series (Ghost, Patina), Miles Morales: Spider-Man, and forthcoming Long Way Down.)

My #pb10for10 list about Relationships

When I was asked to join this project I decided to do a little digging to help my thinking about our focus.  Our byline is – Building Relationships, Empowering Learners.  I am a word nerd sometimes and headed right to dictionary.com.  What do these four words mean?

Building – anything built or constructed

Relationships – an emotional or other connection between people

Empowering – to give power or authority to;to enable or permit

Learners – a person who is learning;the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill

I have my favorite books for launching reading workshop, writing workshop, math workshop and routines/behaviors.  I began to wonder if I had books to help support building relationships and this is what I discovered…in no particular order.  Instead of telling a summary of each book, I tried to highlight aspects of relationships in each.  It’s my intent to use these books in launching conversations that help build relationships for my new learners in an effort to empower them while spending our year together.  

The Sandwich Swap by Kelly DiPucchio begins with two friends who love many things the same except their lunch.  Their lunch differences cause quite a stir and divide between the girls.  They have the courage to try different lunches and realize autonomy is a positive thing.

Ruby in Her Own Time by Jonathan Emmett is a story about a duck family with ducklings on the way.  Four strong and able ducklings are born with one, Ruby taking her time to join the world.  Once Ruby joins the world she takes that same pace to grow and learn and succeeds.

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson takes a look at physical and emotional barriers  and how a simple question can open doors.  The girls find a way to spend time with each other and respect those barriers.

Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard has a very grumpy character who doesn’t really want  to interact with others.  However, his friends think differently and decide to join him on his walk; it’s a way to spend time with him.  The walk turns into a little simon says in a way and changes one grump to happy.

The Monster Next Door by David Soman begins with two characters copying each other by doing and saying silly things.  However, those silly things get a bit carried away and feelings are hurt.  You’ll want to read this one to see how things get mended between a boy and a monster.

Matthew and Tilly by Rebecca C Jones is another story that starts out with friends doing everything together but then they get tired of each other.  I think it’s important we model this as a part of relationships.  Matthew and Tilly play independently but realize it isn’t as joyful.  

Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler creates a story where a king and queen each take over the school playground.  The playground gets divided and there are things to be conquered which leads to an empty playground.  The king and queen step down returning the playground to a happy ever after place to be.

Boy Plus Bot by Ame Dyckman begins with an injured character and the care provided by another based on what he would want done to him.  These things don’t necessarily work until some guidance is offered for what is best for someone who is different.  Readers will enjoy how the two characters find common ground.

Boo Hoo Bird by Jeremy Tankard is a story about support and efforts to help.  It’s a story that builds upon itself with each new character and idea of support.  The characters are full of cooperation and willingness.

The Girl Who Made Mistakes by Mark Pett is about a girl who is focused and successful until one day she makes her first mistake.  With care and support and acceptance she and her community are able to be healthier.

Strengthening A Community Through Student-Led Book Talks

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Book Talks are a powerful ritual for creating a strong classroom connections.  Whether stories, informational texts, or websites are shared, each Book Talk presents opportunities for richer reading lives and a more connected community.  The process and elements for Book Talks are very simple.  

Time:  

Set time aside time each day for a Book Talk.  You only need 2-10 minutes for the presentation, questions, and comments.  Be flexible and use the time you have and remember…you have the entire school year to build and maintain this routine and ritual.  

Materials:  

Book Talks rely on a simple routine and accessible texts.  You select and present any reading resources that you think will enhance the reading lives of the community.  You can present and show the physical text in hand.  You can tap into Internet resources by showing book cover images, authors’ websites, book trailers, or informational websites on a Smart Board.  Visuals of any form make an impact on your audience.

Purpose:

Take time to explain why this book or resource was selected and worthy of the Book Talk ritual.  Why are you really excited about this resource for fellow readers?

Audience Connections:

Let readers know who might enjoy this story or resource.

  • This is a book for readers who enjoy…
  • If you are interested in _______________ this might be the website for you.
  • Are you looking for a new genre in your reading life?  This might get you excited about…

Conversations:

The conversational nature of this ritual provides time to ask questions or make comments.  These inclusive and positive interactions strengthen the connections between readers while building a supportive community.  

Whether I am sharing new titles after a trip to my favorite book store, the next installment in a book series, or introducing an author new to the publishing scene, I want students to realize that I value Book Talks because our independent reading lives matter.  Our talks allow me to share my own enthusiasm for old favorites or new discoveries while adding possibilities to students’ To Be Read lists.   

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Student-Led Book Talks

The power of Book Talks increases exponentially as soon as students take on the responsibilities and leadership of this ritual.  Book Talks actively show students that individuals add important and powerful elements to our learning community.  As I launch the year modeling the process of Book Talks, my students and I create a chart showing the elements of a an effective book chat, connecting students to the community ritual.

Book Talk Elements

  • Title or Web Address
  • Positive Purpose:  Why is this worthy of a Book Talk?
  • Audience:  Who might like this book or resource?
  • Awareness:  Here are some things you should know about this book/resource/website….

 

By the third week of school, I present the class calendar and invite students to consider scheduling a 2-5 minute Book Talk.  Just like the boundaries of Haiku or an Ignite presentation, time limits require students to be thoughtful and intentional about their selections and messages to the community.

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Students present books and resources in a variety of ways.  Here are few examples of how students present their ideas:

Casual Chat

A student sits before the group and talks about the book or resource.

Slides

A student picks 3-5 images that help structure the presentation around important elements worthy of the preview.  The visual presentations are not only interesting, but they offer support for students less comfortable speaking in front of the group.  Slides offer dignified support to ELL students that may need text or vocabulary reminders.

iMovie

Using this versatile and creative tool, students develop their own book trailer and share important elements of the book or resource.  I then upload these trailers to our class website via Youtube.

Posters

Traditional or digital posters add a supportive visual to a student’s book talk and then serve as a reminder to other interested readers.

 

Considering Book Talks

Cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach argue that humans survive and thrive because we live in a rich ecosystem of knowledge. Thinking is more than just an individual’s pursuit, but it is a social effort as well.  I believe that classroom communities grow stronger with shared rituals.  A person’s intellectual and social growth is supported, enriched, and expanded by experiences with the people of a valued community. Supported experiences like Book Talks build powerful connections between learners, empowered by a community where ideas, resources, enthusiasm and questions can always be shared.

 

Book Talks are more than just an opportunity to practice public speaking skills.  The simple act of exchanging book recommendations and listening to one another’s opinions provides each student with a glimpse into the reading lives of peers.  Friendships can bloom when two people are fans of the same author.  Respect for the diverse range of interests and expertise within a class take center stage as informational texts and websites are shared.  Experiencing what it feels like to have supportive listeners in one’s life is refreshing.  A caring community based on a love of reading is time well spent.

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