Monday, August 15, 2016

Growth Mindset in the Classroom

Unless you have been hiding away in a hole in the ground, I am sure you have heard the concept of Growth Mindset pop up recently.  It seems to be a buzz word in education lately, and with good reason - studies have shown that students who have this mindset accept and learn from failure and put forth maximum effort; having a Growth Mindset can have a tremendous impact on achievement and success.

The guru of Growth Mindset, Carol S. Dweck, is an author, speaker, and psychology professor at Stanford University.  Through her studies, she has determined that people can have one of two mindsets - fixed or growth.  People who have a Fixed Mindset see themselves as having a fixed intelligence; they believe they were born with the skills they have, and no amount of effort or practice will change them.  This is where you hear people say things like "I am terrible at spelling", "I suck at basketball", or "I don't have the math gene".  People with this type of mindset truly believe they are pre-programmed for a certain level of success.

People with a Growth Mindset, however, believe that their intelligence is something they have control over; they believe their intelligence can grow and change through hard work, effort, and determination.  They may struggle with math, but they know that if they practice and put in the effort, they will eventually figure it out.

These developments mean big things for education.  Scientists have found that changing a student's mindset can actually change their brains; this change in attitude changes the connections in their brains in ways that allow for improved learning.  

As educators, we can obviously see the need to instill a Growth Mindset in our students.  Real learning takes place in our classrooms when kids challenge themselves to break through barriers, learn from their mistakes, and find success in accomplishing difficult tasks.  

Setting high expectations for the students in our classrooms in a big part of this.  Through our words and actions, we need to show all students that they can achieve greatness - not just those who are considered average or above average.  Those who struggle, or who may not have the support at home, need us even more.  

We also need to work at getting kids out of their comfort zones.  We need to put students in situations where they can learn to adapt to new situations and take risks.  They need to learn that failure is part of the learning process, and that it is not all about getting the right answer.  By embracing the struggle, kids learn to power through their mistakes, learn from them, and achieve real learning.

I find all of the research around Growth Mindset intriguing, and have spent a large part of my summer looking for ways to incorporate it into my classroom (and into the minds of my own kids!).  For more information and professional reading, I strongly suggest you check out the books below.

To introduce the idea of Growth Mindset in my classroom, I plan to start the school year by creating an Interactive Notebook on the topic.  We can then add to the notebook as the year progresses, and reflect back on it when necessary.  I really like the idea of starting the school year with this - I think it will help to establish my expectations, and give us a strong reference point for the year.

For this activity, I had students brainstorm some Fixed Mindset phrases on one side of the paper, and then state the same things on the other side of the paper in a Growth Mindset way.  I love the way this one turned out - great statements, and the effort put into the presentation of the activity really reflects a Growth Mindset!  

If you are interested in some ready to use resources on Growth Mindset that you can use in your own classroom, check out my Growth Mindset Interactive Notebook below.  You can pick it up in my Teachers Pay Teachers store by clicking here, or on any of the images below.

What are some of the ways you use Growth Mindset in the classroom?  Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Blog Book Study - Reading in the Wild

Welcome to my first ever Blog Book Study!  I just finished reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild and I can't wait to share my thoughts!

I fully admit that I am a bit behind in my professional reading.  Reading in the Wild was given to me by a good teacher friend quite a while ago, and I just now got around to reading it.  Once I picked it up, however, I found it hard to put down.  I agree so much with a lot of what Miller talks about in the book about providing kids with independent reading time - in fact, I just recently wrote an entire blog post on this topic, which you can check out here if you like :).  Even though I am already doing many of her suggestions, there were still so many ideas that I want to incorporate into my classroom.

First of all, what is a "Wild Reader"?  According to Miller, these individuals "incorporate reading into their personal identity to the degree that it weaves into their lives along with everything else that interests them".  When I think back to my childhood, I can say that I have pretty much always been this type of reader. Book stores and libraries have always been some of my very favorite places.  I really love this definition, and really want to work on creating these types of readers in my classroom.

Throughout her book, Miller talks about the need to carve out reading time for our students.

"Imagine schools where band, choir, debate, and athletics participants were not given practice time during the school day, and yet were still expected to perform.  If we expect students to perform as readers, they need time to practice reading at school too".

This quote really resonated with me.  I believe this is so, so, so important.  I start each of my Humanities classes with 15 minutes of silent reading each day, and truly enjoy the opportunity to sit around with the kiddos and talk about books.  We really need to work to build a reading community in our classrooms, where kids (and adults!) share books they are reading, make recommendations to each other, and simply read for readings sake.

I do understand that some teachers have difficulty fitting independent reading time into their schedules, and because of this I really liked what Miller had to say about carving out small chunks of reading time.  Instead of always picking up their phones when they have a spare minute, we need to teach kids to reach for a book.  There is always time to sneak in a few minutes of reading throughout the day - waiting in line at recess, sitting in the doctors office, etc.  I know I am horribly guilty of this, and am going to work on practicing what I preach by making sure I always have a book in my bag.  I am also going to make more of an effort in the future to have my students keep their silent reading books on their desks throughout the school day, so they can pick up them up and read when they are done their work.  Even if it is only for a few minutes, the time adds up!  Research has shown time and time again the correlation between time spent reading and academic achievement, and the more reading time we can get them to sneak into their days the better.

I really liked what Miller had to say about classroom libraries, and how student access brought with it increased motivation and reading achievement.  My classroom library is very special to me, as I have spent my career developing it into something great.  Over the years, I have managed to pick up about 40 different sets of 5 books each - this gives me a great variety of titles to share with my students!  In order to do this, I have had to be quite creative.

One way I have added to my class books sets over the years is by searching through used books stores.  I have a small collection hidden behind my whiteboard of half completed novel sets; whenever I go to the used book store (we have such a great one in town!), I keep an eye out for particular titles, and slowly add to my sets as I find them.  Overtime, I am able to complete my sets, and add them to my class book shelf.  I will admit that I am quite picky about the books I purchase used though - I like my books to look fresh and new when the kids pick them up, so I only will buy the ones in excellent condition!

A few years ago, I also wrote up a proposal to our administration, requesting book sets for my department.  I discussed how we wanted to try some new strategies with literature circles and small group instruction, and requested several book sets at different reading levels.  Thankfully, our proposal was approved, and we were able to pick out and purchase a bunch of new titles to add to our collection.  It was really great to be able to pick the books ourselves, as we were able to pick some tried and true classics as well as some new and exciting titles.  I like to make sure I have some obscure (but still great!) titles as well, to make sure my avid readers haven't read everything on the shelf (this actually happened once - a truly amazing kid!)

Even though my classroom library is pretty well stocked, I am still constantly adding to it.  Whenever we have money left in our budget at the end of the year, it always goes to purchasing (and replacing) classroom book sets.  It has been a time consuming process, but has been well worth the effort.  I truly love having access to these books in my classroom, and I think they really help give students the opportunity to have engaging and meaningful reading experiences throughout the school year.

Reading in the Wild also talk about the importance of allowing students opportunities to self select reading material.  Kids can become so dependent on us when it comes to reading choices, and they need opportunities to discover new and great titles, authors, and genres on their own.  This is another reason why I love my classroom library.  There is a wide variety of titles for students to choose from, so they have ample opportunities for self selection.  I have made sure to stock it with genres that my students sometimes avoid at the library, like poetry and non-fiction, so I can be sure they are accessing a wide variety of reading materials.  Also, as I have read all of the titles myself, I am able to have authentic talks with the kids about the books they are reading; I think this is important, as it helps to show the kids that reading isn't just something I assign them, but something I am knowledgeable about and passionately do myself.

In the end, the main thing I took away from this book was how important it is for us, as teachers, to really focus on true and thorough instruction in reading skills and text analysis.  While doing this, we need to remember to be mindful of not just teaching kids to read, but instead teaching kids to truly love reading.  Instead of reading logs and book reports, we need to provide our students with the time to read and a variety of texts, to snuggle up with a good book and simply enjoy the process.  Through this they will truly become "wild readers".

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Interactive Reading Notebooks - Tips for Setting them up in your classroom!

In my last post, I wrote about the benefits of using Interactive Notebooks in your classroom.  They really are something that I am passionate about, and I use them in all of my middle school classes.  

I started with using Interactive Notebooks a few years ago, and have slowly added to them through the years.  I will admit that there was a HUGE learning curve involved in their implementation... I made a great many mistakes, and have learned a lot about how to use them effectively.  My confidence with using Interactive Notebooks has really grown over time; every year I feel like I find new ways to use them to help make learning meaningful, as well as ways to improve student organization and decrease my prep time.  I feel like I have really hit my stride with them now though, and am really looking forward to working with other teachers to help them implement them in their classrooms in September. I have a lot of new activities planned, and am excited to try them out :)

A really important thing to remember about Interactive Notebooks is that they require a lot of thought and planning to be done well.  They are going to become student learning records, and things they refer back to throughout the year, so you really don't want to rush through them.  To prevent you from making many of the same mistakes I made when first getting started with them, here are some tips and tricks for getting the most out of using Interactive Notebooks in your classroom.

Tip #1 - Keytab style notebooks work best.
I have tried using several different notebooks styles with my students, but have found keytabs to work best.  The hard covered composition books are great too, but they can be much more expensive; if you plan on using a new notebook for each unit, like I do, the cost can really add up.  Keytabs are really inexpensive.  At the end of August, I pick up huge stacks of them at Staples for 12 cents each for a pack of 4.  I ask my students to bring in their own keytabs as well, but it is always good to have a back up supply for those who forget.  

Keytabs are also great because the paper inside is the same size as a regular sheet of loose leaf.  This is beneficial, because it means that you don't have to reformat all of your handouts to fit inside the notebooks.  Composition book pages are smaller, making re-sizing necessary.  I know some teachers have their students fold their pages before gluing them into composition books, but I really like to see all of the pages clearly without having to unfold everything.

I also like using keytabs because of the number of pages they have.  They have fewer pages than composition books, which is nice when using them for individual units - I don't like having to waste a bunch of extra pages at the back of each book.  If I do end up needing more pages, it is super easy to attach multiple keytabs together - I simply use a strip of fun colored duct tape to bind the spines together.  It adds a punch of color, and the books hold up really well. 

Tip #2 - You will need A LOT of glue sticks.
If you think you have enough glue sticks to get your class started, buy 30 more.  You will be shocked at the amount of glue sticks you will go through.  I seriously feel like I am always buying, and hoarding, glue sticks.  I have tried using the bottles of white glue, and know a lot of teachers who have had huge success with them, but they have not worked for me.  I find them to be too messy, and the kids are forever forgetting to do up the lids, which means I am always dealing with clogged bottles.  While the glue sticks can be a bit more expensive, I find that their ease of use makes it more than worthwhile.  I know that many have found that glue sticks are not strong enough to hold items inside their notebooks, but I have honestly never found this to be a problem.  Glue sticks are more expensive though, so you may want to have your students bring in their own and use yours as backups.

Tip #3 - When possible, pre-cut.
Even though I am currently teaching middle school students, their lack of cutting skills is appalling.  I am seriously shocked by their inability to cut straight.  Because of this, and my obsession with having everything in their notebooks neat and tidy, I pre-cut notebook materials whenever I can.  The kids are usually ok with cutting out a basic worksheet, but when foldables or small pieces of paper are required, I try and cut out the materials before class starts.  Sometimes time constraints make this difficult, but things tend to go much smoother when I do get the chance.  This can be a great job for peer tutors, parent volunteers, or students who finish early!  Cutting can also be time consuming - pre-cutting helps save valuable class time!

Tip #4 - Use a "Tidy Tub".
I am not sure where I first heard of this, but I absolutely love the idea and have had great success with it in my classroom.  Basically, you place a small bin, or "tidy tub" in the middle of each group of desks in your classroom.  When cutting, have students place their leftover scraps into the bin.  This keeps the garbage off the floor, and prevents students from getting up every two minutes to go to the recycling bin.  At the end of class, designate one kid from each group to get up and empty the tub into the recycling bin.  This saves tons of time, and works really, really well.

Tip #5 - Be realistic.
As I mentioned earlier, integrating Interactive Notebooks into your classroom takes significant thought and planning.  No matter how enthusiastic you are about implementing them, they can quickly become overwhelming if you don't have a plan.  Be kind to yourself - everything you do does not need to be pinterest-worthy!  Not everything you put into your notebooks is going to look beautiful and perfect; real learning can be a messy process, and sometimes your student's notebooks will reflect this.  You may want to start small, and only do one Interactive Notebook unit to start with.  This will help you get into the groove, and feel out if you think it will work for you.  Later, after you have worked out the kinks, you can slowly add more and more Interactive Notebook units.

Tip #6 - Develop (or purchase) some "go-to" graphic organizers and templates.
Before you get started, make sure you have a variety of graphic organizers to get you started.  It is a good idea to find some tried and true resources you are already comfortable with, and find a way to adapt them for use in Interactive Notebooks.  Remember, not everything has to be fancy!  There are a ton of awesome Interactive Notebook resources already available at Teachers Pay Teachers to help make your life easier - check mine out here!

Tip #7 - Create a "Master Teacher Notebook".
As you work through each Interactive Notebook unit with your students, create a "Master Teacher Notebook" alongside them.  This allows you to model the process, and show students exactly what you are looking for.  As a teacher, it allows you to focus specifically on what you want each page to look like.  Having a model for students to refer to helps to avoid a lot of questions about particular aspects of page setup, giving you more time to help kids.  An added bonus is that it become a really helpful resource for students to access when they are away - they simply need to check the master notebook to see what work they have missed, and what resources they need to pick up.

Tip #8 - Remember that organization is a learned skill.
Teaching students to organize their notebooks in the way you would like will take time.  There is only a very small percentage of the population who have natural organizational skills - the rest of us need tools, instruction, modeling, and a whole lot of nagging to keep things neat and tidy.  Overtime this will get easier, but it does take time.  Whenever you get frustrated, it is good to remember that the organizational skills you teach your students will carry over into their future classes, making them much more successful students in the future.

Tip #9 - Have all supplies ready to go.
As much as I like to have my students come prepared each class with the scissors, glue sticks, and markers, I can guarantee that someone (usually quite a few someones) forgets something.  Instead of having my students run back and forth from their lockers, I make sure I have a supply of scissors, glue sticks, and markers in tubs along the back shelf of my classroom.  If kids forget their supplies, they know exactly where to go to grab what they need.  This saves a significant amount of class time, and makes the construction of our Interactive Notebooks so much easier.  At the end of the school year, as students clear out their lockers, I often have students throwing away half used supplies - this is a great time to save these things from the trash and have students donate random markers and glue sticks for your class room.

Tip #10 - Teach and model expectations.
To make things run smoothly, you will need to teach and model routines, expectations, and material management.  The end goal should be that students can construct their notebooks independently.  It takes time, and a lot of modeling, but eventually students should be able to put together their notebooks without a lot of adult intervention.  The more your students get familiar with using their notebooks, the easier and faster the process will get.  As with all things in the classroom, the more time you spend at the start of the year teaching and modeling rules and expectations, the easier things will be later on.

Hopefully these tips help you to get things started with Interactive Notebooks in your classroom.  Do you have any additional tips or tricks?  Leave me a comment in the section below - I would love to hear your ideas!

If you are looking for some great Interactive Notebook resources, I encourage you to check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store by clicking here.  I have included a preview of my newest Interactive Notebook product below - simply click on it to be taken to my store :)


Monday, July 18, 2016

Everything you ever wanted to know about using Interactive Notebooks in your classroom!

If you have been following me for a while, it should be no surprise to you how much I love using Interactive Notebooks in my classroom.  After first seeing them used in the Science classroom across the hall from me, I quickly fell in love - I loved the way they kept the kids organized, and how the kids had a record of their learning, that showed growth over time.  The next year, I began implementing them with my grade seven and eight students, and have not looked back.  

I will admit that this undertaking has been a huge work in progress.  I have had many hiccups along the way, but have found that the benefits have made all of the work worth it.  I have learned that Interactive Notebooks are certainly not just for elementary students, as my middle school students eagerly await opportunities to participate in anything interactive.  This different way of structuring our learning shakes things up a bit, which is exactly what a lot of my disengaged teenage learners need.  I am hugely passionate about using them with my students.

Research has shown many benefits to using Interactive Notebooks.  To me, the very best part of using Interactive Notebooks in my classroom is that they promote engagement, creativity, and analytical thinking - all things I strive for in my middle school classroom.  They keep my struggling students organized, make differentiating for my higher learners a breeze, provide a record of our learning, and become a student-created reference tool to refer back to when needed - honestly, I can't imagine how I ever structured my classes without them.

Lately, I have had a lot of people ask me about Interactive Notebooks, and how I use them in my classroom - sounds like a fun blog post to me!  I really wish I had few tips before getting started, as it would have caused me to bypass some of the wrong turns I made along the way.  

So... what are Interactive Notebooks, anyways?

I have seen Interactive Notebooks called many things - Reader/Writer Notebooks, Interactive Student Notebooks, Response Journals, etc.  Call them what you will, they are essentially a notebook of some sort that is used to record information.  The key is in the "interactive" part, which makes then fun and engaging - a hit with students of many different age groups.  Basically, Interactive Notebooks allow students to take information supplied by the teacher, and merge it with their own thinking.  The foldables and activities within the Interactive Notebook allow students to work with information they have gathered, creating deeper connections to the content.  Instead of just taking passive notes, students are encouraged to "show what they know" by applying their knowledge in a creative way.

In "Classroom Instruction that Works", Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock state that "taking notes and summarizing information is a proven thinking strategy that helps to increase student achievement and retain new information".  Providing students with information and then asking them to use thinking strategies to actually interact with it in some way helps the information to stick in their brains much more than simply listening to a lecture or taking notes from the board.  Creating the foldables and activities within the Interactive Notebooks increase student abilities to organize and connect to class content.  

In my past few years of using Interactive Notebooks in my middle school classroom, I have discovered the following benefits:

Interactive Notebooks are powerful educational tools.
Interactive Notebooks enable students to be creative and independent thinkers and writers.  They allow students to express their ideas in unique and engaging ways, and process information presented in class; as students learn new ideas, they have the opportunity to use several types of interactive writing and graphic techniques to record and process them.  The ultimate goal of using Interactive Notebooks in the classroom is to teach students to be independent thinkers and note takers; Interactive Notebooks teach students about the tools and strategies needed to eventually do this on their own.  The activities completed in Interactive Notebooks are so much more than cutesy cut and paste images; instead, they teach students to interact with content at a high level, and to make that content their own.  

Interactive Notebooks meet the needs of a variety of learning styles.
Interactive Notebooks allow visual learners to explore new ways to share ideas, and encourages non-visual learners to become more proficient with graphic approaches in a non-threatening way.  Both types of learners use the notebooks to work on their writing skills, while learning valuable note taking strategies.  I have found that my kinesthetic learners enjoy moving around and using their hands to assemble the bits and pieces.

Interactive Notebooks help students to systematically organize while they learn.
Students use Interactive Notebooks to organize their thoughts and ideas.  A variety of organizational techniques are used to synthesize concepts and help make sense of what they learn.  The notebook allows assignments to be kept together in a regular place and in a logical order.  Students who struggle with organization (and I am sure you have as many of those as I do!) often find the notebooks very helpful.  Instead of a million random worksheets, students have everything organized together in one place.  Our Interactive Notebooks cause us to spend a significant amount of time in class teaching these organization skills, which students are able to take with them into other subject areas.

Interactive Notebooks become portfolios of individual learning.
These creative notebooks become records of each student's growth.  The teacher, student, and parents can use the notebooks to review a student's progress in writing, illustrating, recording, thinking, and organizing.  They are an amazing portfolio to pull out during parent conferences.  Gone are the days of gathering up and storing assignments, as now I simply have to pull out our Interactive Notebooks to show parents what we have been up to.  These notebooks are an excellent summary of our learning, and parents always seem to be impressed.  Student growth can clearly be seen as they progress throughout the school year.

Interactive Notebooks are a work in progress, and allow students to learn from their mistakes.
I have my students complete a new notebook at the start of each unit.  Throughout the unit, notebooks are collected sporadically, and checked for completion.  When improvement is needed, sticky notes with constructive criticism are added.  As the notebooks are not collected for marks until the very end of a unit, students have multiple opportunities to receive feedback and improve their work before receiving a final mark.

Interactive Notebooks are valuable study tools.
As all of the information needed for each unit is contained inside the Interactive Notebook, the notebooks become comprehensive study guides created by the students themselves.  Interactive Notebooks help teach students new ways to study, and the activities within the notebooks often provide students with visual pictures to help remember content.  Having everything complete, organized, and in one place makes studying much easier.  Interactive Notebooks also teach students to be resourceful - when they get stuck in class, or forget how to do something, they can refer back to the information they have previously gathered.  They quickly become the "go to" resource  for students to go over concepts they have missed or are struggling with.  Throughout the course of the year, students are essentially creating their very own textbook; I can guarantee these self-created textbooks are much more meaningful to students.

Interactive Notebooks are fun, hands on, and engaging.
The activities we complete while putting together our Interactive Notebooks bring with them high levels of student engagement.  The kids are actively involved, moving around, and being creative while creating things that flip, flap, and fold - these hands on activities really give students the opportunity to grasp concepts further.  Interactive Notebooks turn the boring necessity of note taking into something kids actually look forward to.  No one remembers doing a boring worksheet, but I can guarantee you that my students can look back in their notebooks and remember completing each activity.  This engagement really helps them to remember concepts better.  When kids enjoy using these methods for note taking, they are much more likely to use them as a study and reference tool.  

Interactive Notebooks allow students to develop pride and ownership over their work.
According to research on Interactive Notebooks, they are most beneficial when they are used as a learning tool developed by students, for students.  Through the creation of our Interactive Notebooks, students actively interact with content, providing records of their learning.  Essentially Interactive Notebooks become records of learning that are physically put together by the students. Because of this, students take ownership, and are proud of the work they put into their Interactive Notebooks.  They spend a lot of time creating them, take care of them, and want to share them with others.  Very, very rarely have I had an Interactive Notebook go missing, even though I let my students take them home with them.  My students regularly spend their free time coloring them up, and they become beautiful and personal records of their learning.  When students create something they are proud of, they are much more likely to use it as their "go to" resource.

Interactive Notebooks are great for teachers, too!
Using Interactive Notebooks in our classrooms allow us reflect on our student's learning styles, as they are a great way to analyze student understanding of new concepts.  Many of the activities we complete in our Interactive Notebooks are perfect examples of formative assessment.  As teachers, we can then use the information we have gathered to create, plan, and manage our small group instruction.  The Interactive Notebooks I use in my classroom show everything we learned, when we learned it, and how we learned it.  As the year goes on, I make notes in my teacher version of areas we struggled and areas that went well.  This makes lesson planning so much easier the following year!

I really hope this post inspires you to give Interactive Notebooks a try in your classroom.  They are a surefire way to increase student engagement, organization, and accountability in your classroom.

Do you use Interactive Notebooks in your classroom?  If so, I would love to hear about it!  Tell me about how you use them by leaving a comment in the comment section!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Exploring Gary Paulsen's Hatchet

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is one of my very favorite novels to teach.  I am always on the hunt for ways to pull in my struggling boys, and the male protagonist and survival theme really seems to suck them in.  The book is also one of my eleven year old daughter's all time favorites, so I can say with all honesty that the story is really appealing to adventurous young girls as well.

There is so much that you can do with this novel.  It makes a great literature circle book, as it pairs really nicely with other survival themed novels, such as Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins, Jean Craighead George's Julie of the Wolves or My Side of the Mountain,  Shipwreck or Everest by Gordon Korman, Deathwatch by Robb White, The Cay by Theodore Taylor, or The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelsen.  The similar themes of these stories would make for some great class discussion and compare/contrast activities.  

Youtube has some great videos about the novel.  I usually use an interview with Gary Paulsen that I found on youtube to introduce the author.

I like the way he talks about his life as a writer and his reasons for writing.  To keep the kids focused while we watch, I like to handout a few quick questions for them to complete while watching.  We glue these in at the beginning of our Hatchet Interactive Notebooks, and discuss the answers as a class.  If you would like a set of the questions we use (with answer key and video link), you can download it for free at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store here.

As the theme of the novel revolves around survival, I like to introduce the novel by discussing some wilderness survival tips.  I have collected a variety of tips on a handout, and we go over the tips and discuss them as a class.  After discussion, I have the kids brainstorm and write about the tip they think is most important.  The kids always enjoy this, and I find it to be a fun pre-reading activity to get them excited about the book.  We usually get some pretty good class debates going on, as the kids like to argue over which tip is most important.

In the past, I have had the kids complete chapter questions when we complete each chapter of the novel.  I like these questions in particular because they include vocabulary words and opportunities for the kids to express their learning in an artistic way.  This has been a good way to work on their vocabulary and to make sure they are understanding what they are reading.  

This past year, however, I decided to switch things up a bit.  We had been learning about summarizing, and I really wanted the kids to get some practice with these skills while reading through the novel.   To do this, I decided to have them summarize and illustrate what happens in each chapter.  This was a nice break from chapter questions, and the kids like the opportunity to show their understanding in artistic form.  I also really loved how the completed projects looked!  We hung them on the wall outside our classroom for a bit, and then glued them into our Hatchet Interactive Notebooks.

The little image on the left of Brian with mosquito bites makes me giggle every time I see it.  The kids had so much fun with these and I really love how they turned out.

As we progress through the novel, we spend a significant amount of time brainstorming the ways Brian has changed from the beginning of the novel towards the end.  I have them do a compare and contrast organizer in small groups, which we then go over and add to as a class.  When we are done, I have them glue them into their Hatchet Interactive Notebooks, as they will need to refer back to them for the next activity.

For this activity, the kids are required to illustrate and discuss the changes that Brian went through during the novel.  It makes for a great visual representation of Brian before and after.  I like the way this assignment forces kids have to look at the changes that occurred in Brian both on the inside and outside.  Again, the kids loved being able to use art to show their understanding, and I love how they turned out.  Once they were complete, we glued them into our Hatchet Interactive Notebooks.

If you are interested in picking up any of the resources shown in this post, you can pick them up at my Teachers Pay Teachers store by clicking here or on one of the images below.

Do you teach this novel in your classroom?  I would love to hear about some of the activities that work for you!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Silent Reading in the Middle School Classroom

As teachers, we all know the correlation between the amount of time that kids spend reading and their reading levels; quite simply, the more kids read, the better they will be at it.  Studies consistently show the key role that reading volume plays in the development of comprehension, vocabulary, general knowledge, and cognitive structures.  In Reading in the Wild, Donalyn Miller states that "we cannot overlook one truth: no matter what standards we implement or reading tests we administer, children who read most will always outperform those who don't read much".  Even though we know this to be true, I have found that many teachers struggle with fitting in independent reading time in their classes.  With standards to meet and tests to prepare for, independent reading is often something that falls to the wayside... and this is so sad!

Why should independent silent reading be practiced in our classrooms?

In his book, "Building Student Literacy Through Sustained Silent Reading", Steve Gardiner states that "a significant number of research studies have examined sustained silent reading programs, evaluating their effectiveness with students from primary grades to graduate school... and most of these studies show that SSR is successful in promoting and improving student literacy".  Later is the book, he goes on to state:

"Giving them time to read is clearly the most important thing I do with my students.  It:
-builds vocabulary;
-connects to writing;
-develops an understanding of the qualities of good readers;
-meets needs the teacher might not know about; and
-gives students a chance to connect with reading is an unstructured situation."

Every time our students pick up a book, they are faced with new ideas, words, and sentence structures.  Every minute spent reading builds upon the next, making reading easier and more enjoyable for our students.

Some of the additional pluses I have found while allowing my middle school students time for silent reading include:

-Opportunity for student choice - Most reading done is school is assigned.  Independent silent reading allows students to read material they choose on their own.

-Builds reading confidence - As silent reading time is meant to be uninterrupted, they must work through trouble spots on their own, which helps them to become confident readers.

-Students actually want to read more - Reading, sharing, and talking about books in a positive way encourages students to want to try new genres, experience different authors, plow through the next book in a series, and ultimately read more!

Some tips for setting up a silent reading program in your classroom.

As you can probably tell, I am a huge advocate for silent reading in my middle school classroom.  For the past 10 years, I have been having my students complete 10-15 minutes of independent reading time at the beginning of each class.  I will admit that it took a lot of trial and error for me before I turned silent reading time into something I felt was both beneficial and personally meaningful to kids.  Below, I have included some of my best tips and tricks for setting up a successful silent reading program for middle school learners.

1) Make the time - With all of the other things we have going on as teachers, it can be difficult to carve out an additional 10-15 minutes of class time in our already busy schedules.  However, with all of the research showing how effective independent reading is in the creation of life long readers, we really do need to find a way.  This reading time gives the kids the opportunity to actually apply all of the reading strategies and skills that you have been teaching them, and is crucially important.  Once you have found the time in your schedule, make sure you make the time a priority.  Kids need to see that this time is valuable and important, and won't learn this if you cancel it when "more important" things come up.  Show the kids that their reading time is worthy of protection, and never sacrifice it.

2) Allow for choice - As most of the reading kids do in school is assigned to them, independent reading time is the perfect opportunity to let them make their own choices about what they read.  Many teachers at the school I previously taught at would allow students to bring in their own books from home for this, or would give students time to sign books out from the library.  In my room, however, I have my students select books from our classroom library.  My classroom library is quite extensive, with a wide variety of authors, genres, lengths, and reading levels.  I am an avid Young Adult literature fan, so the added bonus of having the kids choose from our class library is that I have actually read all of the novels myself.   This allows me to have great discussions with the kids about what they are reading, and also helps me to make recommendations to kids who are struggling with finding the right book.  Because I have read all of the books, I know that they are quality literature choices, that are highly engaging.  Yes, this does mean that I require myself to read YA lit like a madwoman, seeking out the best new titles.  And it means that I spend quite a bit of money on investing in quality books for my classroom.  But, as this is something I really think is important, I make the time and find the money.  I will discuss some tips and tricks for setting up your own classroom library, and some of my favorite book choices for middle school kids, in an upcoming post.

3) Provide time for discussion - At the end of your 10-15 minute silent reading time, allow some time for class discussion.  This doesn't have to happen at the end of each silent reading time, but it is great if you can make an effort to do this a few times a week.  This is a great time to bring the class together and show them what you have been reading, introduce a new author or genre, or to give a quick book talk on a few new titles you have picked up for your classroom bookshelf.  You can have students share some of their favorite reads as well, or even have a guest staff member or parent come in and talk about one of their current favorites.  Our school librarian is always game to come in and share some of her favorites, and I have even had our principal come in and give a quick book talk.  These discussions can really motivate other students - I have found that kids will often choose their next reading choice based on recommendations by their peers, and a new book I have shared in class rarely sits on our book shelf for long.  It is amazing what a little advertising can do!  Allowing time to talk about books shows kids that reading isn't just a solitary activity.    

4) Celebrate Reading! - Sometimes reading can get a bad rap.  Kids can come into your classroom saying that they hate reading, and that it isn't something "cool".  As a teacher of reading, it is your job to make reading cool again!  Make reading in your classroom something to celebrate.  Give book talks, hold mini conferences with your kids to talk about what they are reading, and get excited about new books in your classroom library.  Your enthusiasm about reading really will rub off on them!  One of my favorite ways to celebrate reading in my classroom in by throwing a "book feast" at the end of the year.  Have your students choose a favorite independent reading book, and bring in a themed snack to share with the class.  On the day of the feast, have the kids discuss their books and the way the snack ties in.  I clearly remember a group of boys one year who were hooked on the "Hunger Games" series - they brought in "Cinna"-buns (cinnamon buns), Nightlock Berries (blueberries), and Po-"Cato"-Chips (potato chips).  Such a fun way to get kids excited about what they are reading, and to share that enthusiasm with others.

5) Model, model, model! - According to Gardiner, independent reading time "allows an adult to model the habits, choices, comments, and attitudes good readers develop".  Kids need to see that reading isn't just something that kids are assigned to do, but something that is enjoyable to adults too.  It can be very, very tempting to use this quiet classroom time to get some much needed work done, but try not to.  Pick up a book, practice what you preach, and show kids you value the time as well.

6) Hold the kids accountable - I know some of you will disagree with me on this one, and it is probably the area that I most struggled with when setting up my silent reading time.  I am all for reading for reading's sake, and fully agree that reading with a mandatory worksheet attached can suck the joy out of a reading experience.  That being said, kids are kids, and not all of them are going to buy in right from the start.  I found that without the accountability, I had some kids who would hide their phones and text behind their novels, or who would simply grab the first book they came across each day, resulting in them reading the first two pages of about 30 different books on our shelf.  They were not investing their time in a novel, and therefore could not get excited about them.  The way I stopped this from happening was that I created a series of Reading Comprehension Strategy Poster pages.
At the start of the week, the kids pick up a new reading comprehension strategy page from the front of my room, along with their silent reading book.  Throughout the week, the kids are required to work on these during their silent reading time.  Each page contains a few questions that can be applied to any novel they are reading, and which focus on specific reading comprehension strategies.  They can work on these at their own speed throughout the week.  The pages should really only take them 10-15 minutes to complete, so they don't take very much time away from their actual reading time, which I think is really important.  When the kids are done, I have them glue them into their Reader's Notebooks.  These are great to have on hand to refer back to when we talk about the different reading comprehension strategies in class, and give the kids some additional practice with these essential skills.
Then, throughout the week during our independent reading time, I call a few students up to my desk for a quick conference.  I keep the conference very low key, and simply talk to them about what they are reading and have them show me their completed reading comprehension strategy pages in their Reader's Notebooks.  This really helps to keep the kids accountable to what they are reading, and has made a huge difference in the success of my independent reading time.  I think that engaging the kids with what they read really helps them to think about and make sense of what they are reading.  If you are interested in trying out these reading strategy pages with your own class, you can check them out in my Teachers Pay Teachers store by clicking here or on one of the images I have included.

7)  Allow kids to give up on a book - When we read as adults, we will often stop reading when a book doesn't interest or engage us.  Let kids have the right to do this too!  As I mentioned above, I really don't like to see a kid picking up a new novel each day only to read two pages, but if a kid has honestly given a book a try, and has not found it enjoyable, they should be free to pick something else.  Independent reading time is supposed to be fun, and kids should be thoroughly enjoying what they choose to read.  Having a large classroom library, and the ability to recommend the right book to the right student, greatly reduces the amount of books kids give up on.

8) Provide Flexible Seating - Whenever possible, allow kids to sprawl out and really get comfortable with their books.  Bring is comfy cushions, exercise balls, or anything else you can get your hands on to facilitate this.  If it is a nice day, and your administration is on board, you can even take them outside to lay in the grass.  In the past I have been known to bring in a class set of yoga mats, move the desks out of the way, and let the kids lay out on the floor.  While I haven't let the kids set up blanket forts just yet, I wouldn't be opposed to the idea!

I certainly wouldn't argue about the importance of many of the things we do in our classrooms on a regular basis - in depth novel studies, writing instruction, and group work are all essential parts of the language arts classroom.  Clearly, however, we can see the importance of getting books into our students hands, and for allowing them to read independently during the school day.  No matter what instructional methods we choose to use, our students need time to actually apply the reading strategies and skills we teach if we want them to become skilled readers.  To do this, our kids need time to read!   Silent reading time is really just another tool in our arsenal for developing life long readers, who thoroughly enjoy the reading process.