Category Archives: Teaching

Readers are Created, Not Born

We are all born without knowing how to read. It is a skill we must learn. And how do we learn most skills? We see others doing and we emulate. We make mistakes and we grow. As soon as we can hold a book, we begin imitating those who have read to us. We pretend to know how to read before we can read. We “fake it ’til we make it.”

Very few kindergartners will say they dislike reading. But, at the other end of the educational spectrum, high schoolers are quick to admit a deep dislike for reading and anything associated with reading. How do we go from being ready to try it before we can actually do it, to fearing it to the point of shutting down as soon as a book is placed in front of us?

To emulate, we must see it happen. Sadly, I have known some houses that do not have a single book inside of it. There are children being raised without knowing what a library is, let alone where it might be located. There are children who’s parents can’t read them to sleep, because they struggled with reading to the point of shutting down and calling it a “stupid waste of time.”

I often wonder how many parents end up regretting not being able to read their children to sleep. I think back to when my two girls, both in their teens now, were little and how much I enjoyed our story times. I would drop almost anything to read to my girls. I would cringe when MiniQ would ask me to re-read Cinderella Skeleton AGAIN, for what seemed like the millionth time, but I would never forgo it, because it was a book she loved.

I write this, because I know the power of books and reading. I was reminded of it again today. It is day two of school, the first full day on a regular schedule, and I always start my year off running. I don’t spend days one and two going over an endless list of rules or a syllabus. It’s ineffective, the kids tune out, and frankly, it never ends up doing much in the way of making things work more effectively or efficiently in my room. So, I get the kids busy on day one.

Today, I did a Book Browse. There are cooler names for this activity, but for the life of me I could NOT remember any of them today, so Book Browse it was titled. I had placed 4-5 books on each student table, which seats two students. With no direction except–1 book, 3 minutes, silent reading–I told the kids to pick a book and read it. After three minutes they wrote about their first impressions–did they like it, did they not like it, what sparked their interest, what stood out to them–and always, always, always EXPLAIN why! We did this for three different books.

Today’s class is almost exclusively boys and most are self proclaimed NON-readers.

The outcome:

  1. Every student had read at least ONE book that sparked their interest enough to possibly want to read it.
  2. Every student had read at least ONE book that they had STRONG opinions about.
  3. Every student read, silently, for three minutes each time.
  4. Every student took the time to write reflectively about their reactions to what they read.
  5. Every student eagerly spoke about something they had read to someone else in the class. Normally, when teenagers have a moment to write and not have to listen to the teacher, they begin the off topic chatter. Not this group. They wanted to talk books.

A few comments overheard:

Nope, I can’t do it. I cannot read another sentence of this book.

When I walked over to the young man in question, I asked him to show me the book. It was the second book and I assumed he just didn’t want to read anymore. Never assume! It was The Road to Oz and I told him how The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of my all time favorite books. So, I asked what he meant by “Nope, I can’t read another sentence.” His reply,

The narrator knows too much. There’s no figuring out what the characters feel or think, because the narrator is telling us. It’s no fun.

Holy Buckets Batman! This is exactly the kind of thinking and discussing I long for teenagers to do and here this young man goes, doing it BEFORE I even require him to do it. Be still my heart!

And, normally this would be an oddity, but today’s class was FULL of this kind of thinking and discussing. Another young man pointed out how he got lost in the first paragraph of the second sentence. When I asked why he read it to me, it was from a Greg Iles book. The sentence in question used the word car, for an elevator. Because he had no experience of hearing or using the word car to describe an elevator, he was lost. And he knew it! The importance of vocabulary, anyone? He has provided me an authentic entry point to why vocabulary is important and what to do when we are tripped up by it.

So many more conversations took place and the kids are engaged and reading and discussing. I ended a very stressful (for other reasons) day in a moment of joy and happiness, because I have them hooked. Many have already requested one of the books they read today as their first independent reading. We did so much more during this full day and every minute counted!

I plan to do the same thing tomorrow and can’t wait to see the results.

Let me know what you think!


The Start

A new school year begins tomorrow!

I have been back at school for two solid weeks. First, just me, getting my room ready. Last week–the week long endurance test known as “back to school meetings.” Four straight days of meetings and Friday–a day we could FINALLY work in our rooms. That’s why I spent a week there prior to last week. And I will post pics of my amazingly decorated (by MiniQ) room tomorrow!

As this new year begins, I am looking forward to:

  1. Working with a GREAT bunch of educators–both @ the alternative program I work at as well as the regular high school. Our English department is an amazing bunch of ladies who work hard to make reading, writing, speaking, listening, and presenting engaging, relevant, and fun!
  2. Working with a GREAT bunch of students–it’s not every day I can walk into a local grocery store and get a hug from a student (a soon to be SENIOR in high school student :)) who says I can’t wait to see you in two days. These are the moments I know why I do what I do and why I LOVE what I do!
  3. Working with an AWESOME tech set up–every kid has a laptop (juniors and seniors got new MacBook Airs), I have a MacBook, iPad2, and a projector in my room and there is so much potential. I plan on blogging with my kiddos this year, incorporating some backchannel chatter for videos and discussions, as well as so much more.
  4. Teaching the same class a second time–for a 10 year teacher, you think this would not be a big deal. Let’s just say I have only EVER taught the same class once! Each year I have always taught all NEW courses, with the exception of one year, where I taught American Studies for the second time. Once. In 10 years. Oh my, am I looking forward to it! But, in reality, I am probably going to plan ALL NEW things to teach. Because that’s all I know! LOL
  5. Teaching an Honors Level course–I wish I could teach all my kids at the “honors” level. Ah, who am I kidding? I do! I just sneak it to my non-honors level kiddos. They fear the idea of honors, but once I wade them into the processes and higher level skills, they attack with as much vigor as my honors kiddos do.
  6. ONLY teaching English courses at the alternative program–last year I was in charge of business/computer applications & career ed too. Not made for that stuff!
  7. Starting each day new!

I know this is a reading blog and I am debating within myself about whether to continue posting about school here or start ANOTHER blog dedicated solely to school…hmmm…not sure just yet.

SWUR (1) Goal Post–UPDATED





Read-a-thon Signups

Update: 8/12/2012

I shouldn’t be surprised, but this week I read a whole lot of…wait for it…NOTHING. 😦

There are some pretty good reasons:

  1. a personal issue pushed me to be busy for busy’s sake, so I went in to my classroom every day this week to get it ready for the new school year. And it looks–AMAZING! I will be posting pictures soon!
  2. I have decided to allow MiniQ to take her 8th grade year classes online. We moved here in Dec and she had a hard time fitting in (small town, midwest, USA, where everyone has known everyone else since birth). She will be taking choir at the middle school, after her choir teacher called and BEGGED me to let it happen. She’s excited, as am I, but it requires SO MUCH prep work here on my end, because she will be taking the traditional classes online, but I will be requiring a bit more of her–as one of the reasons she wanted to take online courses was because she spends so much time sitting there doing nothing in school because learning is “easier” for her than some of her classmates. So while the teachers re-teach and catch up the others, she is bored.
  3. My part-time job (teaching online) will be gearing up in the near future and I have been organizing for this as well.

I go back to my full time teaching job Monday. Lesson plans are ready, meetings for a week, then bring on the students! So my reading life is about to stall again. At least for a few weeks, while I get into the swing of work again and learning how to navigate MiniQ’s schedule and daily life.

So, this will be my 2nd summer challenge. I didn't meet my goal on the first one, but it did push me forward in my overall summer reading. This one will be better, because it is a longer challenge and I report back to school on the 13th. The timing is perfect!

My to read books for the SWUR :

12 Angry Men

I just bought the play of this and plan to read it to see if it will work in my English 11 course!

And I need to find a novel in verse to help with my progress on the Verse Challenge.

Shout Out (2) – Visual Writing Prompts

I stumble across far too many COOL, CREATIVE, or just plain AWESOME blogs and websites not to share. Some I stumble across by accident, some by happenstance, some because they have visited my blog, and others are referred to me by others. So, I have decided to share with you all (because it also helps me keep track of and remember!) the cool things I find. 🙂

Today’s shout out goes to a writing blog-Visual Writing Prompts. As a reader, teacher, and a writer this blog does so much for me. I am a visual person. The more pictures, images, fonts, and colors something uses, the more I am attracted to it. I ran across the idea of incorporating visual writing prompts in the English classroom earlier this year and must sadly admit I have not made much headway in using them yet. But, I plan to incorporate their use more fully next year and will be testing out the website shouted out here today in class this week!

I have often used photos or visuals as thought provokers/writing prompts before, but on a very limited basis. When I stumbled across John Spencer’s post, Ten Thoughts on Photo Prompts, earlier this year I immediately Evernote clipped it and saved it in my file of ideas for incorporating into the classroom.

Then today, on my Twitter feed, I found a link to a blog John and others contribute visual writing prompts to and know it is something I can use in my classroom. In fact, today I am going to ask my students to go to the site, pick one of the prompts and write about it. Just to see what they do. 🙂

I hope it encourages your creative juices, too!

National Poetry Month (9) – Poetry Project

I thought I would share the poetry project I am having my students work on during National Poetry Month.


I have students who have professed, for an entire year now, an intense dislike of poetry. But, when I introduced this project, students were excited. As I created this project, I made sure I included options for students who loved writing poetry, students who hated writing poetry, and students who had no idea where to begin with poetry.

Poetry is, at its very core, creative. All options allow for student creativity to shine through. I will post images of student work as it is completed and as they approve it for public consumption.