Acts of Grace and Confidence

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On the first day of school, I met my student Hiba.  As she stood in our classroom doorway, her first contact with me was a warm, firm hug with the words:

I am Hiba.  Good morning.

Gazing at her, I observed a happy girl wearing a colorful sundress, a beautiful hair bow and the cutest of sandals.  Behind this student’s  big smile and sparkling eyes, was a story, one of grace and confidence. 

“Welcome to our classroom. We are so happy that you are here. ” I replied

I only knew bits and pieces of her story.  Hiba arrived at our school the year before as a  9 year old.  Chronologically, she was old enough for fourth grade, but due to circumstances beyond her control, she was assigned to third grade.  Her placement was not based on language; our school often enrolls children speaking limited or no English.  Hiba’s situation was different; her family fled their home country of Syria when Hiba was a very young child and had lived as refugees for years in Turkey.  Interrupted schooling was an understatement.  Hiba had never been to a formal school and spent her early years folding clothing in a garment factory next to her seamstress mother.   

Regardless of past challenges, Hiba now had a chance to write a new chapter in her story.  She spent her third grade year in our school community  thriving and growing with the support of a loving classroom and caring adults. Hiba was like a very young plant her first year in the United States.  Like a seed, she was absorbing important elements like the culture of school and life in the United States.  As a seedling, she was building the basic language skills that connected her to a new community.  She empowered herself with an understanding school culture.  She made friends, while building her knowledge of life in the United States.  During her third grade year, a team of teachers collaborated with time and care,  helping Hiba build her identity as a reader, writer, and speaker of English. Hiba may have arrived in 4th grade with the label of “pre-functional,” a language learner with a limited English vocabulary, but she came with the confidence and optimistic energy of a student who was ready to work and ready to grow.

 

My Mission?  Better Yet…Our Mission:

I quickly understood that I could not best serve this child on my own.  I do not speak, read, or write Arabic.  How could I provide experiences for this motivated child and make up for time lost to war, relocation and interrupted schooling?  The task felt daunting and I knew I needed to find a way to move from worry to ease.  Foundational questions helped me discover our collective strengths so both Hiba and I could begin our work together from a place of ease and confidence.  I launched our year together asking:

  • How can my language arts classroom help this child grow?
  • What skills and strengths does this child bring to the classroom?  
  • Who is available to help support this child?

Just like most schools, our ELL teachers and aides have schedules that are stretched in mind-boggling directions.  With great care, the team and I collaborated and  secured a schedule, developing an intentional plan to maximize the talents of our support staff.  Our ELL teacher would provide daily intensive reading support, focusing on reading strategies and vocabulary instruction based on Hiba’s identified strengths and needs. Our bilingual aide would support Hiba’s knowledge of sight words and English vocabulary during writing workshop 3 times a week. With their support steps in place, I planned my role.

 

My Role:

As Hiba’s classroom teacher, I knew I was responsible for her mainline instruction in language arts, so I prepared my own action plan.  Using Marie Clay’s Observation Survey to gather literacy information about Hiba, I came to know her as a reader and writer during the first weeks of school.  I determined the kinds of sight words, functional words, and cultural vocabulary that would support her literacy development.  

  • During our Reading Workshop, I scheduled a guided reading lesson four days a week with one day to assess her progress, listen to Hiba read a self-selected book, and help her continue to build her own book collection with titles.  
  • I planned daily guided writing lessons for Hiba and other striving writers during Writing Workshop.  I could work closely and support Hiba and a small group of writers showing Hiba that she was not the only one working to become a better writer.  My striving writers learned that they could be teachers and help one another grow in the smaller circle of our guided writing group.  
  • For Word Study, I wanted her to experience our Word Study lessons, but I knew she needed more.  I secured a Rosetta-Stone online account for Hiba to use as an independent study tool to support her English and to enrich her Word Study experiences.

During the first weeks of school, I got to know Hiba just like any other student through “kid-watching” and anecdotal notes.  I watched her handle books and noticed she eagerly asked others to read aloud to her.  I noticed she loved to write and draw elaborate pictures to support her work in her Writer’s Notebook.  She absolutely adored her circle of friends, sweet girls that rallied around Hiba and helped her in any way possible.  Just like a pride of mamma lionesses, each girl took turns making sure that Hiba was happy, included, and successful.  I watched them patiently take time to understand her attempts to be part of conversations at lunch, lessons and workshop experiences.

Hiba demonstrated from Day 1 that she was always observing her classmates, listening to the conversations, and following their actions so she could be an active part of the community. I needed students to authentically enrich Hiba’s learning in a respectful and efficient way by harnessing the social power of our community.

Environment:  I began building supports into the learning environment so that Hiba was guided toward independence.  

  • Seating:  A caring team of friends agreed to sit with Hiba at a table so they could provide support as needed.  I met with the girls and modeled ways to support rather than just “doing” for Hiba.  Their job was to let her be independent and only offer help as requested by Hiba, offering assistance in a kind and respectful manner.
  • Quick Communication Board:  Hiba had access to a clipboard with icons and survival phrases that were presented and explained to her by our Arabic-speaking bilingual aide.  The Quick Communication Board helped Hiba to have dignity and independence when asking for help.  As she felt comfortable with phrases like, “I need to sharpen my pencil”  or “I need to visit the restroom,” new phrases replaced mastered life skills.
  • A Visual Schedule:  Consistency and predictability help children gain control over their lives as they navigate a sea of new language and culture.  Knowing what was going to happen throughout her day helped Hiba to feel secure so her energy was focused on learning.  A buddy or the bilingual aide reviewed our schedule at the start of each day so she knew what was happening at all times.

 

Workshop Supports:

I looked for intentional ways to capitalize on dignified peer support to help Hiba move towards independence during our literacy workshops.  Thinking about our 3 literacy blocks, I targeted ways that students could enrich Hiba’s membership in our literacy community.

Reading Workshop:  

During Reading Workshop, the freedom to make choices are important to all children, including ELL students.  By adjusting workshop experiences to match Hiba’s growing confidence and skill-set, we launched the year with Book Buddies supporting Hiba in various ways during independent reading time.

  • A Book Buddy listened to Hiba read books from her leveled book tub.
  • Another Book Buddy read a picture book selected by Hiba. The reader not only practiced reading aloud for meaning and fluency, but Hiba grew her reading life and English knowledge with picture books.
  • Audio Books on sources like Epic gave Hiba other independent reading options.
  • Wordless Books were always available for Hiba to read by herself or with others during independent reading time.  The powerful illustrations of these books were later used for vocabulary development during Word Study or 1:1 sessions with an adult.  

Writing Workshop

Hiba met each day for a focused guided writing lesson with me. During Independent Writing Time, Writing Buddies helped Hiba capitalize on labeled visuals.

  • Labeled Pictures:  Hiba would select an image with vocabulary labels to support her writing.  As she crafted a sentence, a writing buddy could read or listen to Hiba and offer support as needed.
  • Visual Dictionary: Peers could target a page in a Visual Dictionary so that Hiba was comfortable using this writing tool to find the words she needed for writing. Students were encouraged to add synonyms to useful pictures.  For example:  on a page with art supplies, a peer added the word “markers” to a caption that read “felt tip markers.”
  • Tech Support:  As Hiba learned to use Google writing tools, spellcheck became an empowering way for her to move closer to conventional spelling.  Those “red squiggles” on misspelled words allowed her to control how she asked for help or corrected words by herself.

Word Study

  • A Word Buddy helped Hiba review vocabulary in her picture dictionary.
  • A Word Buddy listened to her complete Rosetta-Stone lessons so she had an audience for the speaking components.
  • A Word Buddy also served as a vocabulary tour guide around the classroom, checking her understanding of functional life vocabulary cards taped around the classroom.

Lessons Learned

It is natural for classroom teachers to scramble, searching for ways to support and enrich the learning lives of ELL students.  By nature, teachers are experts at designing and controlling experiences for students that lead to positive outcomes.  The lesson I learned from Hiba was one of grace and confidence.  I discovered it was not necessary for me to be the sole provider of her learning experiences.  Rather than looking at a pre-functional student as a daunting challenge for a classroom teacher working alone, support is available when a teacher looks to the strengths of a child and accepts the help of the community.  

With intentional planning, the people in Hiba’s learning community coordinate and maximize learning opportunities.  Teachers and students help Hiba navigate a new language and culture each day in our own way.  As teachers, we cannot control a child’s past experiences or a child’s present level of English language skills.  What we can control is how we respond to this learner.   When we respond with dignity, optimism and the strengths of our community, we find unlimited unlimited powers and opportunities.

Honest Conversations

Hallway Talk:

“ I cannot believe that I said yes…” I shared with a colleague one busy October morning as we walked our students back to our classrooms after art and music. I explained to my friend about an upcoming presentation I agreed to do at our neighboring middle school.  

“Do you think middle school teachers could really use any ideas I have to share?  I think saying yes to hosting this presentation was a mistake…” I added with a jittery feeling of dread.

“Well you’re not sounding very confident…” came a bubbly voice a few steps behind me.  I pivoted to see the smiling face of Gabby, a charismatic and outgoing student and the source of the unexpected comment.

“Do you want to talk about this with us?” she said with her dark eyes shining while beaming a most genuine smile.  

Surprised was an understatement describing my immediate reaction to Gabby’s question.  I was not expecting a child to hear, let alone listen and then process my worries. Unexpectedly, Gabby reacted and reached out to offer caring support.  Moving past the idea of looking under-confident to a child, I was intrigued by the possibilities of this learning opportunity.  What would students say when their teacher revealed her nervousness about an upcoming presentation at another school?

“We always talk about characters and the conflicts they face in their stories.  This time we could problem-solve with you and figure out this inside problem.” chirped Gabby, scurrying to walk beside me so we could chat.

Wait…what….???  My eyes must have widened-so Gabby continued her chatter.

“In class we always talk about characters having conflicts that happen on the outside in their world and also the struggles they have on the inside with their feelings.  Well… I can tell you are worried…your eyebrows have that crunched together look and your voice doesn’t have the usual pep.” replied Gabby.  

The life of a teacher is filled with the necessity of being flexible and accepting the spontaneous needs of children.  Ordinarily, I was accustomed to being the one supplying advice or helping students to craft solutions.  Taking a risk and accepting advice were two choices I often encouraged my students to  consider.  What would happen if I showed my students the power of reflection and the acceptance of help?  What did I have to lose?  More importantly, what did my students have to gain?

 

Unexpected Conversations

“Gabby is going to lead a discussion…” I announced to my students as we settled into our classroom’s community area.

“So you can make an oval to chat.”  directed Gabby, finishing my sentence.  Once she had the team’s full attention, she explained why we were gathered and shared her thoughts on the conversation she overheard.

“And I wasn’t really eavesdropping…” she added. “Mrs. Smith was talking about a presentation, which is just like a lesson with us, so I figured it wasn’t a private topic.  I think she would pick a better place to talk about private topics than the hallway.”

(Note to self-always assume someone is listening to you in the hallway.)

“So it seems that Mrs. Smith is worried about talking to a group of teachers for a presentation.” Gabby stated with a serious and confident voice. “I think she needs a conference.  Who would like to start?”

“What are you going to talk about with the teachers?” asked Michael.

I explained how my talk would focus on conferences with students during Reading Workshop.  I would describe how we talk about books and students’ reading lives. I was greeted with smiles and lots of nodding heads.

“Is that all?” asked Steele.

I continued, explaining how I would also show the way we use Google Forms to collect information about readers and then how we use the information to keep growing as readers.

“Why are you worried about sharing?”  added Steele after hearing the additional information.  

I was intrigued by the comfortable conversation hosted by students; their questions peeled away the layers to reveal my question:  Were my worries stemming from my teaching practices or the perceptions of my middle school colleagues?

 

Honest Revelations

“I don’t know my audience very well…so I am wondering if the information I share will matter to them and their teaching.”  I confessed.

“I felt that way when I had my first reading conference with you.  I figured you had already read the book, so what else could I say about it?” answered Tony.

“Yeah…me too.  But you let us talk.” added Sheri.  “You wanted to know what we thought about our books.  Isn’t that what you are going to do?  Share what you think about reading conferences?  So really this presentation is just like a conference.  Instead of one teacher listening, you will just have a bunch of teachers listening…Don’t you think the other teachers want to hear what you have to say?  You always want to know our thinking in a conference.”

“I never thought about it that way before.” I answered.  This conversation was more than a pep-talk.  I was learning about my own classroom community and the bonds created through reading conferences and conversations.

“Are you going to tell those teachers about the Google Forms because they help us?  Are you going to explain how the conference forms lets us feel confident and helps us tell you more about the books we’re reading?” asked Maria.

“The form helps you to feel more confident?” I asked, rather surprised by this news.

“Well of course…when you started conferences at the beginning of the year, you kept the form on the SmartBoard for everyone to see- even if we weren’t having a conference.  We saw and heard what you were doing in a conference. Then we knew what to expect when it was our turn to talk with you.”  Maria added, looking surprised that I had to ask that question.

“Letting us see the form on your laptop during conferences really helps too.   You also have our Book Partner charts nearby to help us with possible topics for our conference talks.  All of this stuff made our conferences easier… and then conferences became fun.  Didn’t you know that?” responded Emma with kind disbelief.  

“So about this talk.  I’m really confused.  Are you worrying about the talking or about whether or not people will listen?”  Gabby finally asked.  

Wow.  In one kind but direct sentence, Gabby summarized my worries.  The wisdom of children means you need to be ready to wrestle with some hard truths.  It never dawned on me that it wasn’t the talking that had me worried, but would my audience care enough to listen.  This short “conference” helped me focus on empowering ideas and now I could conquer my concerns as a presenter before a new audience.

 

Lessons Learned

A 10 minute conversation with my students accomplished more than easing my worries about a professional presentation.  Our talk confirmed my beliefs about class conversations and the confidence gained from a powerful literacy environment.  My students reaffirmed how meaningful conversations build the foundation of a supportive classroom community.  This confessional conference reminded me of the following truths:

Be a listener.  

Let students talk so you can discover their perceptions of selected classroom practices, routines, and rituals. By slowing down and letting a child lead the conversation, who knew I could receive reflective and powerful feedback from my students?  By publicizing my worries about an upcoming presentation, I actually discovered how important reading conferences were to my students.  In turn, my students realized that their observations and advice helped me feel more confident; their words helped me realize the necessity of being brave so I could share my ideas with others. Empowerment can be a shared experience.

 

Be vulnerable.  

We all have our worries and baggage that we try to compartmentalize and hide away when we live and work in our communities.  Decide when sharing your concerns and looking vulnerable is worthwhile so you can hear truthful comments from those around you.  Be open to the messages of your colleagues, your school families, and from children.  My unexpected confession to students reinforced the idea that we need one another.  Sometimes we need support.  At times we need to celebrate.  Each of us needs someone to listen.  We all need caring people in our lives to grow.  When students understand they play a role in creating a supportive community, we encourage children to be invested in themselves and in others.

 

Be appreciative.

When our short ten minute conversation came to a close, I was compelled to share my gratitude.  I made sure my students understood that I valued their advice.  I commended their empathy, thanked them for listening and congratulated them on supporting me even when they didn’t quite understand my concerns.  Their ideas shed new light on the powerful possibilities of Reading Workshop conferences. I thanked them for the way they focused on positive elements and solutions, helping me to find my purpose, and in the end my confidence.  I let them know that instead of making me feel silly for speaking my worries, I felt stronger for sharing the truth.

 
Confidence In Our Communities

No matter where you teach, our classrooms hold the potential power of a supportive community.  When we listen to the honest conversations of our students, their words and perspectives reveal perceived roles in our carefully designed community.   How do students value classroom practices, routines, and rituals?  Do students see themselves as contributing members with ideas to share?  Are they confident enough to offer advice?  Do students care about one another, including their teacher?  

As educators, we know our roles as leaders, mentors and guides.  Do our students understand their roles in classrooms?  We need our students’ perspectives and ideas to create thriving communities.  When Gabby asked me:

“Do you want to talk about this with us?”

I never anticipated the empowering feedback I could receive from children.  I learned that our team gatherings and individual conferences were more than instructional practices.  Our classroom communities can be the places we find our people, our voice, and the confidence to speak.  Our communities can help to discover the power of us.

What Are Your Superpowers?

“I have 5 younger brothers and sisters.  My superpower is that I am really good at helping somebody feel better because at my house, someone is always needing something like a band aid or a hug.”

“My superpower is that I am good at showing others how to use technology.  I think computer might be my second language.”

“I am really organized.  My superpower is helping to clean things up and make them look nice.  Our team’s supply tub looks really good because of me.”

“I’m really good at helping new kids make friends.  Everybody needs at least one friend.  I’m good at helping others be together at recess or lunch.”

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We are good at book recommendations.

“I can help at Chapman Elementary because I speak two languages.  I know that you cannot speak or read Arabic, Mrs. Smith…so I can help you with students or their parents.”

“After my mom died, I learned to be a good listener.  At my house, my brothers and sisters, but especially my dad needed quiet time to think about things after my mom died.  When someone at my house needs to talk, it’s important we pay attention.  My superpower is listening because sometimes a good listener is what someone needs to feel better.”

“My superpower is music.  I love playing piano for others…it makes me happy to see people smile and sit while they listen to me play.”

These are some of the quotes lifted from recent interviews with my students.  Sifting through my notes the other evening, I smiled, I cried, I laughed, and finally breathed a sigh of relief.  There is hope for our world when we uncover the strengths students carry in their hearts and spirits.  I am renewed with determination every time I think about the amazing children surrounding me each day in our classroom.  These kids are my heroes and heroines, making my community better one day at a time with their superpowers.

Before I start focusing on last year’s test scores and this year’s baseline assessments, I need to acquaint myself with the superheroes residing in my classroom.  In a world challenged by so many issues, I gain priceless information when I take time to discover the many gifts and talents my students bring to our classroom community.  In today’s world, we don’t need someone who can lift a boulder, but we do need someone who lifts the spirits of others.  Our community doesn’t need someone who can out-battle enemy storm troopers in another galaxy, but we do need someone who can unify a group with friendship and respect.  We need skilled listeners and bilingual community members that respect the voice and perspectives of our diverse community.

This is why we need to know our children.

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Our superpowers:  Helping someone who is sad or lonely feel better.  

We notice other people.

I start the year sharing an Ignite-style collection of images that capture what I believe to be my “superpowers.”  I share a few slides each day with a short explanation of my strengths.  With each slide, I talk about my perceived talents that I bring to my school and home community.

I show a picture of a bookshelf in my classroom.  My superpower is that I can help kids find captivating books. I turn kids into literacy ambassadors determined to turn the world into a community of readers.

I show a picture of a beautiful meal, my favorite recipe to prepare for my family.  My superpower is that I know the healing power of healthy food and the value of sitting down at the dinner table together.  I want all of my students to always have breakfast and lunch, so I let them know, “If you are worried about groceries, come and see me so we can work this out.”  I want to make sure that families have information and access to nutrition programs as needed.

I show a picture of me trying to do Crow Pose, a tricky yoga balance.  My superpower is NOT that I am great at yoga or any sport for that matter.  However, I am brave enough to try something hard, something that challenges me.  I want to be reminded of the challenges and frustrations students face as learners.   My goal is not to be perfect.  My goal is to keep trying, to keep going after something that is difficult.  When I keep trying, I am proud.  When I tip over, I laugh, but roll up and try again.  I am a super-heroine because I am determined to get better.

After a few days of my personal stories and being together in our classroom, students start to feel comfortable enough to chat with me about themselves.  During a mini-lesson, I explain how readers and writers rely on understanding the strengths of characters to help them understand and explain their stories. Since a classroom is a living story, we need to know one another.  As I’ve revealed what I believe to be my own superhero talents, I now want to know what makes my students special or unique.

Rather than put children on the spot, I meet with informal groups.  Using a simple question, I launch a conversation and record the comments of children.  

What are some of your super powers?

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We can speak two languages.  Can you?

As we talk, children are inspired to think about their talents in new ways.  With guidance, my soccer players move past their skill sets and number of goals scored to consider they are cooperative leaders who know how to work together with teammates.  I discover the budding mechanics who like fixing things; then I know who will be tending our pencil sharpener throughout the year.  Students who excel at caring for siblings often become the caregivers not only to classmates in need, but our classroom plants and pets.  Children who view themselves as active and fun become a go-to person for shy kids looking for a playmate at recess.

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We like taking care of the lunch boxes each day.

As each group talks with me, the others in the room are thankfully eavesdropping on the conversation.  As discussions unfold, things that matter to children are presented.  

“I’m really good at untangling knots in shoelaces.”

“I’m an expert at redoing ponytails and braids because I do all of my sisters’ hair at home in the morning to help my mom get us ready for school.”

“I love to listen to someone who is sad and help them figure out a solution to the problem.  My sister fusses a bunch at home, so I’m good at stopping the whining.”

As I take notes, we build a web of our class’ superpowers.  

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As kids see our growing visual display of superpower categories, they often add their names to the evolving lists.  Using small photos of the kids, I add their pictures to the names listed with our “superpowers” so our community can see and recognizes the strengths and expertise of others in the classroom.  Our superpowers web becomes a community bulletin board, used like Angie’s List, a resource used by adults to find goods and services around the community.  Your shoelaces somehow got tangled?  Go and see Ali.  You need someone to help you with editing your story?  Go and find Omar.  If you are not feeling well and Mrs. Smith is sending you to the nurse, ask Remaz to walk you down because she is good at helping others feel better.  

One way to create a strong, close-knit community is to build the confidence and awareness of its members.  If a child feels valued for the strengths or life-skills he or she brings to the classroom, that same child will be more willing to be a risk-taker as learning opportunities unfold during the school year.  When children feel valued by classmates, connections are established and a supportive community thrives.  Every student, no matter his story or her challenges, has something to contribute.  It is up to us as leaders in our learning communities to take the time to discover and celebrate those superheroes and super-heroines amongst us.  We need them.  In this sometimes crazy world, we need one another.

 

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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