Sunday, November 23, 2014

Is Every Group of Kids Really That Different? Yes!

It always amazes me how every group of first graders I teach is different.  Yes, there are some things that are the same about all first graders.  They are still very little, they are excited about learning new things, there is a huge range with regard to first grade reading abilities, they still cry in first grade, and they love when their teacher acts silly.  All of those things tend to hold true with each first grade class I teach.  However, there are so many other things that make each group of first graders uniquely different from the previous groups.  My class this year is no exception.  There are so many things that amaze me about my current group of first graders.  I know what you're thinking.  Of course they are different from your last group because each child is different.  When you have a different group of kids you have a completely different classroom.  Yes, I can't argue with that.  However, it's more than that.  This group of kids...this group of personalities that has been put together to make up my wonderful classroom, has a very different vibe.

One of the things that I love about young learners is their excitement.  My current group of first graders gets excited about everything, even little things.  Little things, like Cougar Paw stickers, pleases them.  They beam with pride when they are recognized for working hard or helping a friend.  Just the simple gesture of sticking a tiny Cougar Paw on a hand is enough.  This class also loves, loves, loves to dance and sing.  During morning meeting they happily sing songs/poems for our fluency practice.  They enjoy creating hand movements to go along with the songs.  They even sing songs that they remember from previous weeks.  When we add new poems/songs each Friday to our Poetry Notebooks you find many flipping back through the pages to read or sing their favorite poems and songs.

One of the best things I noticed about this group is how much they love to work on their blogs.  They love connecting with other first grades in our classroom and from around the world.  They also enjoy creating new blog posts and they come of with some very creative topics.  Topics like, My First Grade Chores, Walking in the Hallway, The Best Halloween, and My Favorite Story to name a few.  This weekend I found myself approving 69 comments.  That's a huge increase compared to last year's class.  Whenever we have a short week due to a holiday break or other school closing the first thing my students want me to do is to establish a time when they can reschedule their blog day.  I also have more parents and relatives commenting on their child's blog this year.  Many of my first graders are even using their blogs after school and on weekend.  I don't think I've ever had as much excitement about blogging as I have this year.

I have a very thoughtful group of first graders this year.  I continue to get tons of "love notes" and drawings that are created especially for me.  I get tons of hugs as they enter the classroom or leave for recess or at dismissal.  I have kids who enjoy helping their peers with drawing bat wings because they are "bat experts" or putting away supplies for a friend who forgot to clean up after an activity, or volunteering to switch a Daily 5 choice so that a classmate would have a partner for buddy reading.  I could go on and on and on.  The thing is, this group of kids has a special place in my heart.  It's not possible for me to have a "bad day" because every day that I have the pleasure of teaching this group of kids makes for a "very, very good day". 

What's different about your group of students this year?  Please leave a comment.  I would love to know.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Blogging in the Primary Classroom

For the last 5 years I have introduced my first graders to blogging in the classroom.  Most people are surprised to hear that first graders actually have blogs and use them.  It's true!  My first grade students actually have their own individual student blogs via Kidblog.  The website is and teachers can create free accounts for their classrooms.

Blogging gives my students the opportunity to connect with other students in authentic ways.  This year we are, once again, participating in a Primary Blogging Community with a group of teachers that I met on Twitter.  Our blogging community includes four classrooms from different parts of the country and around the world.  Two of the classrooms are in Canada.  The third classroom is in Seattle and my classroom is the Michigan connection.  During the first week of the event we visit the classroom blogs of our Primary Blogging Community friends.  This gives teachers the chance to model how to navigate a blog and how to leave comments.  During the next four weeks we focus on our students' blogs by visiting a different hosting classroom each week.

My classroom was the "focus classroom" for the first week of the event.  We received over 100 comments from the other classrooms.  It was quite exciting and very motivating for my students.  You can probably imagine some of the comments... "Look everyone, Libby has 20 comments on her blog!"

Last week, we started leaving comments on the students' blogs in the other classrooms.  This was easily accomplished by signing up for a few extra days in our school's computer lab.  I add the classroom(s) that we want to visit to the Blogroll on the home page of our Kidblog site.  It makes it much easier for my students to navigate.   If it sounds like a daunting task…don't panic.  It's not.  My first graders always amaze me at what they can do, when given the opportunity.  The are fearless!  They are willing to take risks in order to learn new things and that, in itself, fills my heart with joy.

One of the things that I always suggest to my students is that they include a question with each comment they make.  This sparks the conversation between students and classrooms.  Whenever,  I see comments on their posts I tease them a bit by saying, "It looks like you have a bit of homework."  This is the kind of homework your students will love.

Tips for Blogging with Students:

  • Use the computers in your classroom by creating a blogging schedule.
  • Allow students to blog during Daily 5 or other centers.
  • Start by creating simple posts like this, "Things I Like…"
  • Create easy passwords they can spell and remember.
  • Teach about blogging safety and digital citizenship.
  • Create a blogging community at your school or grade level.
  • If you have access to iPads, Kidblog also has an app.  I use it on my personal iPad which makes monitoring the site quick and easy to do.

I'm going to use my own advice.  So here's my question for you.  What tips do you have for blogging with students?  Please share them by leaving a comment below.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

August 10 for 10 Picture Book Event

This is only my second time participating in the August 10 for 10 Picture Book Event.  Thanks Cathy and Mandy for hosting this wonderful event! 
The 10 books that I chose represent books that have the potential to elevate the conversation.  I teach first grade and, yes, my first grade students share their thinking about the books we share.  Since these books are read aloud, my students are able to focus more deeply on characters, themes, and big ideas.  My goal is to promote deeper conversations about the texts.

Here are 10 of my favorite picture books for deepening the conversation.  These books have the potential of teaching us a lot about ourselves and others as we share our thoughts and individual perspectives.

 Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson and illustrated by Loren Long

A young boy is told the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black squadron of pilots who served during WWII, through the eyes of his uncle.  This book will help readers understand the part these brave souls played in the history of America.
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 Rosa by Nikki Giovanni and illustrated by Bryan Collier

I love the last line of this book, “The integrity, the dignity, the quiet strength of Rosa Parks turned her no into a YES for change.”  This is a powerful story that will undoubtedly have your students discussing the different themes that are living within its pages.
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Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Floyd Cooper

A young boy sitting in the back of the bus, shares his experience of the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the same bus.
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The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles and illustrated by George Ford

This is the story of the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school.  My first graders were enraged by this story and amazed by Ruby’s courage.
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A Nation’s Hope:  The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt DeLaPena and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

This is the story of African American boxer Joe Louis and his bout with German boxer Max Schmeling for the world heavyweight title.  Here is my favorite line from the last page of the book, “The streets of Harlem once again dancing for their hero--But all of America dancing this time.”
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Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

This wordless picture book about the Underground Railroad will certainly have students inferring, wondering, and discussing the themes and messages in this book.  This book shares the courage of everyday people.
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Henry’s Freedom Box:  A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Students will be fascinated by the story of Henry “Box” Brown who was one of the most famous runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad and how he mailed himself to freedom.
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Freedom School, Yes! by Amy Littlesugar and illustrated by Floyd Cooper

This is a story based on the 1964 Mississippi Freedom School Project.  It’s the story of a young girl and a community who bravely risk everything for a chance to learn. 
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Moses:  When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

This is a beautifully illustrated story about Harriet Tubman, a former slave, who was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, a network of helpers and hideaways.  She escaped north into freedom and returned to the south many times to help other slaves escape.
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Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis

This story is about a new girl who arrives at school and is judged and constantly excluded by the other kids because of how shabbily she is dressed.  After the new girl moves, another student realizes that she has missed an opportunity to show some kindness.
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I'm always looking for new titles...books that will elevate the conversation.  I do have several others that I didn't include above.  Do you have any suggestions that I should add to the list?  I would love to hear from year.  Please share them in the comments below.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#CyberPD Part III: Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits

This week's reflection in on chapter 5 and the Appendices of Reading in the Wild:  The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller.
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Wild Readers Show Preferences

Assisting my students to become independent readers is one of my responsibilities as a teacher.  I want to support them as they grow into wild readers.  Like adults, our students are readers who have different personalities and experiences.  As we find out as much as we can about our students, we become better equipped to support them as readers. 

Helping to connect students to books is one of the ways that we can offer students support.  Three areas stood out for me in Reading in the Wild as ways for readers to “connect” to books.  They connect with books by being introduced to read-alike titles, by allowing them to include light reading as an option for book selection, and by providing them opportunities to reread favorite books.

Read-Alike Titles

I love the idea of read-alike titles.  As an adult reader, I often gravitate to the kinds of books I’ve enjoyed reading in the past.  Why should that be any different for my first grade readers?  Once I identify what my first graders enjoy reading, I can use their interests to suggest similar types of books for their independent reading time.  I’m also aware of the kinds of books my students tend to enjoy as a read aloud and I’m constantly on the look-out for those kinds of books.  Books that provide weird, gross, or interesting facts, books that make you laugh, and books that teach powerful lessons.  I’ve never referred to these as read-alike books before but I think this is my new, favorite title for identifying these books.

Light Reading

When my first grade readers choose books for their reading baskets I ask them to select 6-8 good fit books, 2 informational books, and 2 free choice or look-books.  Inevitably, I have some kids who choose books that are below their reading level as their free choice option.  Donalyn shares evidence that this type of reading helps readers become more competent and it motivates them to read more.  Who doesn’t enjoy a light read from time to time?  I think most wild readers do.

Rereading Favorite Books

In primary classrooms students enjoy rereading their favorite books.  On book shopping day I usually have 2 or 3 students who ask if they can keep one or two of the books in their baskets so they can reread them.   As I was reading the story Donalyn shared about her student, Jordan, who reread the Harry Potter series and shared how he “discovers new things” when he revisits books, it reminded me of my favorite movies.  In addition to loving books, I also enjoy watching movies.  Sometimes I watch my favorite movies over again.  I often discover new things in the movie upon the second or third viewing.  I often share this analogy with my students as well.  When I’m sharing a read aloud that my students have read before I explain that it’s like the movies I’ve seen again and again.   Perhaps they’ll discover something they didn’t notice before.  I also remind them that they are not the same readers they were last year when they were introduced to the book the first time.  There are a lot of benefits to rereading books.  “In fact, rereading books increases comprehension and enjoyment.” (p. 175) I totally agree with Donalyn when she says, “f they reread books because they love them, I say let them.  We want to develop students’ ownership of reading.  When we tell students they can’t reread a book they love, we put our goals in front of theirs.” (p. 176)

Nonfiction Reading

I was shocked to read that older students avoid and dislike reading nonfiction books.  I have to agree with Donalyn when she says that it’s probably because they lack positive reading experiences.  My first grade students love reading nonfiction texts.  I’m sure it has a lot to do with their curious nature.  First graders are like sponges and they soak up tons of information while listening to and reading nonfiction texts.  Over the last few years I’ve made an effort to share more nonfiction texts when I read aloud to my students.  On page 180 Donalyn shared this list of really good activities for using nonfiction text in the classroom:

·        Add more nonfiction book talks.

·        Read-aloud nonfiction texts.

·        Use nonfiction as mentor texts.

·        Pair fiction texts with nonfiction on related topics.

·        Provide students frequent opportunities to preview, read, and show nonfiction.

There are a ton of great forms in the Appendices for use in supporting students as they become wild readers.  My goal is to revamp some of them in order to make them more primary-friendly.  I’m hoping that other primary teachers are planning to do the same thing.  Perhaps at some point we can share the forms we create.  I love the idea of using “reader” in place of “name” on these forms.  That was a great idea and one that I plan to use in other areas.

What are your thoughts?  Thank you for taking the time to read and add your voice to the conversation. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

#CyperPD Part II: Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits

This week's reflection is on chapters 3 and 4 of Reading in the Wild:  The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller.

Product DetailsChapter 3
Wild Readers Share Books and Reading with Other Readers

Chapter 4
Wild Readers Have Reading Plans

As I wandered through these chapters, I found myself pausing, thinking, and reflecting.  Visual images of my own classroom drifted in and out of my mind.  Many of these pages resonate with me because they mirror my beliefs about teaching and supporting readers. 

'It is our charge as more experienced readers to lead children to reading, first as enjoyment and then as a place to understand themselves and the world we must live in together, and ultimately as an appreciation for the power of stories to capture what it means to be human.' (p. 160)

Here are my Super Seven Takeaways:

  1. Cultivate Successful Learning Communities.  Staring with the first days of school, I'm working to create a school family.  Students are asked to bring in beloved books to share, book baskets are filled with familiar books, and carefully selected books are shared and discussed during our read-aloud time.  We are creating an environment where everyone feels safe and respected.  "How my students and I interact creates a climate that both supports learning and provides social and emotional safety." (p. 89)
  2. Educate Parents About the Importance of Daily Reading.  Working in a Title I building, my colleagues and I spend a lot of time educating our parent community about the importance of daily reading.   We are always on the lookout for new ideas and things to try that supports this purpose.  I love Donalyn's ideas for flooding parents with pro-reading messages.  For example, adding a weekly student book recommendation to our email signatures.  What an easy way to promote reading!  Additionally, increasing children's access to books during school breaks.  I'm thinking about creating "School-Break Reading Bags" (at different reading levels) that students may check-out over the holidays.  Another great idea was teaching parents how to squeeze more reading time into boring activities.  Even if parents know theses things, it doesn't hurt to give a gentle reminder.  "Many parents lack strong, positive reading experiences in their own lives and don't see the urgency or understand how to support their children's literacy in meaningful ways.  When flooding students with pro-reading messages, we must flood their parents, too." (p. 92)
  3. Reading and Discussing Books Together Benefits Children and Builds Relationships Among Readers.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately.  Providing authentic ways for students to share and respond to what they read enhances our learning community.  In the beginning of the year, we start with post-it notes to record and capture our thoughts and we share books and ideas with reading buddies.  As the year progresses, my students can use their individual Kidblogs and our classroom Twitter account to share and discuss books with other readers in our classroom and around the world.  Even with these wonderful tools and opportunities, I try to keep the focus on the reading rather than their ability to use these amazing tools, successfully.  This can be a bit tricky with primary students.  But my first graders are amazing!  They enjoy trying new things and they're not afraid of taking risks.  I plan to give them even more opportunities to share their books and thinking with the world.   #CyperPD is a perfect example of readers sharing their thinking in authentic ways.  "When we finish a book we consider our personal reactions to it, and if we appreciate it, we share the book." (p. 100)   
  4. All Readers Deserve Opportunities to Grow.  I never really thought about expanding the influence of my epicenter readers.  Why hadn't I tapped into this valuable resource in my classroom?  Thinking about my epicenter readers from last year, these students would have been great resources for book information and modeling wild reader reading habits.  I know they were naturally doing those things, however, I plan to expand their influence from now on.  I have always wondered if I focused more on my struggling readers at the expense of my epicenter readers.  Not ignoring them, but certainly not challenging them to their fullest potential.  I plan to do better by these readers next year.  "We are tempted to focus our attention on the students who struggle with reading.  But we must remember that all readers deserve opportunities to grow." (p.121)
  5. Every Book We Read and Share Connects Us to Each Other.  I love reading and sharing books with my first graders.  Our read-aloud time is one of our favorite times of the day.  "Every book we read and share connects us to each other.  That's the best part of our story--the part that lasts long after the book ends." (p.128)
  6. Conferring Provides Opportunities for Fostering Relationships with Students.  When I pull up close to one of my kiddos, I give them my undivided attention.  I find that it's one of the best ways to learn about and support my students as readers.  "Talking one-on-one with children, guiding them as readers, and helping them move forward in their understanding seemed a lot like a conference when I stepped back and thought about it." (p.131)
  7. Series Books Provide Paths to Lifelong Independent Reading Habits.  There are so many great reasons for introducing students to books in a series.  "Reading series books provides students with both commitment and challenge plans, depending on readers' needs and interests.  It provides a scaffold for students who lack confidence or cannot follow through on their own reading plans.  And it provides readers familiarity so students are much less likely to end up floundering with unsuccessful book choices or abandoning book that didn't work." (p.152)  Below are a few series books that I plan to share with my first graders this year:
Marty McGuire Series by Kate Messner
*Heidi Heckelbeck by Wanda Coven
Andy Shame by Jennifer Jacobson
*Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows
*Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo
*Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo
*Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold
Frankie Pickle by Eric Wight
*Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo by Nancy Krulik
Freddie Fernortner Fearless First Grader by Johnathan Rand
*I've shared most of these books with former first graders and they have loved them.  I'll be reading a couple of the titles on the list for the first time this school year.
Are there any titles that you would add to this list for primary students?  Please share...I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#CyberPD Part I: Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits

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Beginning this week and for the month of July, I'm participating in #CyberPD (online professional development).  A group of educators, like me, will be reading the book, Reading in the Wild:  The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller.  We'll be writing reflections about the book on our blogs, commenting on the blogs of others who are participating, and using Twitter to continue the conversations.  In this first session, I'll be reflecting on Chapters 1 and 2.  This event is hosted by Cathy Mere, Laura Komos, and Michelle Nero.  Thank you, ladies, for hosting this wonderful event.

I've been thinking about what it means to be a "wild" reader a lot lately. As a first grade teacher, I'm working with students who are at the beginning of their reading journeys. I want them to see themselves as readers.  While reading this book, I was looking through the lens of a first grade teacher and asking myself how these ideas might impact my own teaching.

Chapter 1
Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read

Some Important Considerations:
  • "Students need to connect with other readers and participate in a reading culture that values them. Our students must see themselves as readers, or they will never embrace reading beyond school." (p.  9)
  • "It is difficult for many children to become wild readers if they don't read during the edge times." (wasted moments in between our daily commitments) (p. 13)
  • "Reading a book in one sitting (binge reading) is a rare indulgence, but most wild readers take advantage of the random Saturday or vacation and read books cover to cover." (p. 16)
  • "Most wild readers prefer a relaxing, quiet environment." (p. 23)
  • "Fake reading and reading avoidance commonly occur when students lack independent reading habits, confidence, or adequate reading skills." (p.25)
  • "As teachers, we need to reclaim reflective practices for ourselves and use it as a tool to continually recalibrate our teaching to our core beliefs, determine what is and isn't working, and focus our teaching so we can continue to offer quality instruction that we can reasonably manage and maintain throughout the school year." (p.41)
The impact these ideas have on my teaching:
  • My first graders participate in partner reading time, daily.  They enjoy sharing and discussing books with peers and value this opportunity.
  • I'm always looking for creative ways to encourage my first graders to read outside of the classroom.  Last year, we carried books to read in between our gym and music specials.  We used this "edge time" to read more books.
  • As an adult reader, I enjoy binge reading.  I know that I'm hooked when I continue to think about the characters long after I have finished reading the book.  As a first grader teacher, I might have 1 or 2 binge readers in my classroom each year.  These students tend to read above grade level and have positive reading experiences outside of school.  I can model this behavior for all of my first graders by discussing and reminding them of the characters we know and love from books we've shared as class.
  • All students appreciate a quiet classroom during reading time.  Reading is thinking.  Our reading environment must support the reading and thinking we do all year.
  • I refer to fake-reading as "pretend reading" in my classroom.  I had a student who struggled in this area for most of the school year.  His reading was above grade level.  However, he did not value our reading time and complained of being bored.  It took me months to discover that he was not selecting books he was interested in reading.  Donalyn's warning signs (p. 27) are a helpful reminder of what students do when they are not really reading.  She also shares how to address these behaviors in chapter 1.
  • Reflection is the key to almost everything we do as teachers.  Like many educators, I'm constantly reflecting on my teaching.  Each year I find myself tweaking my teaching practices and classroom routines in an effort to support learners and provide a positive classroom experience for my students.
Chapter 2
Wild Readers Self-Select Reading Material

Some Important Considerations:
  • "When students select their own books to read and enjoy, they develop confidence in their abilities to make reading choices and build their capacity for choosing books in the future." (p. 46)
  • "Read-alouds provide students with support in choosing their own books by increasing their title and author awareness, improving their background knowledge and experience, and fostering increased motivation and engagement with reading through positive reading experiences." (p. 56)
  • "Book drawings are an engaging and fun way to introduce new books to students and encourage risk taking.  Students are more willing to try unfamiliar books when I endorse them and classmates express enthusiasm for reading them.  Even students who don't enter drawings build title and author awareness." (p.58)
  • "The more we know about books and our individual students, the better support we can provide." (p. 64)
  • "Students who regularly choose books that they can't read or don't enjoy are unlikely to read much or find reading personally gratifying.  Exposing students to lots of books and positive reading experiences while building a network of other readers who support each other provides student with tools that last beyond the classroom setting." (p. 70)
  • "Providing students with scaffolded opportunities to preview, evaluate, and choose texts gives them the practice they need in self-selecting books." (p.71)
  • Managing a classroom library requires curation--selecting the best, most current materials for curriculum needs and students' interests." (p. 80)
The impact these ideas have on my teaching:
  • My first graders enjoy choosing their own books to read.  Allowing them to fill their baskets with books of their choice is a huge motivator for reading.
  • Our Read-Aloud time is one of our favorites parts of the school day.  I love the idea of allowing students to select the next read-aloud using book commercials. (p. 54) 
  • We use the "Random Name Generator" on our Interactive White Board to randomly select students who want dibs our the newest additions to our classroom library or the next book in a series that was recently introduced.  It's is fast and effective with my first graders because they know the computer is doing the choosing rather than the teacher. 
  • Getting to know our readers is vital.  I've tried a number of different ways over the years, such as reading surveys and the like.  Last year, when I had a student teacher, I was able to conduct reading interviews with my first graders which provided some helpful information.  It's amazing how well you get to know the readers in your classroom when you talk to students even during informal gatherings like "lunch bunch" celebrations.  It's a matter of noticing, listening, and noting.
  • Making sure that my first graders have books they can read and enjoy is always a challenge.  On any given day I encounter children who are sitting with baskets of books that are too challenging for them to read.  This tends to be especially true of my struggling readers who desire to have a successful reading experience as they build stamina and encounter books they enjoy and connect with.  I'm wondering what would be the best way to approach a first grade friendly "Reading Selection Reflection".  Perhaps this could be accomplished in small groups by creating an anchor chart based on their input.  I'll have to consider this idea further.
  • Occasionally, I create tubs of books for students who need this extra support.  The books are at their reading levels and they do their book shopping out of these prearranged tubs.  They still have choice, however, they are not yet ready to choose books from our entire classroom library.  I have found this support to be quite successful.  Also, I love Donalyn's suggestion to "Unpack your thinking when evaluating a book and share it with students." (p. 71)  This would make a great mini-lesson and one that I need to share with my first graders periodically throughout the school year.
  • Our classroom library is one of those areas that is a work in progress.  I'm constantly working on the best way to arrange books and make them accessible to my first graders.  I also have a bit of a book addiction and I'm always buying new titles to add to our collection.  I love the idea of allowing students to carefully rummage through the books even before you introduce them to how to use the library.  One of my favorite first grade moments was the day I opened two boxes of donated books in front of my first graders and shared the books inside.  It was like Christmas in September.  That was a blast!
As I continue to dig into Reading in the Wild, I have lots to consider as I prepare for a new school year.  There are things that I can identify with because they validate what I'm already doing in my classroom.  There are a few areas that I have moved away from but I may need to "recalibrate" my teaching as it relates to these ideas.  And...some surprises that make me smile as I'm already starting to think about how I might tweak these ideas to engage and support first grade learners.  I can't wait to dig into chapters 3 and 4. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Clubs in the Primary Classroom

We are at the end of our informational reading unit and my kiddos are now working in book clubs. Book clubs are typical routines in the upper grades but they don't happen as much in primary classrooms. In my opinion, the key to successful book clubs is not expecting perfection. Yes, I do expect my students to work hard, and I do expect them to do their best work. However, these are not MY book clubs, these book clubs belong to my students. What I am saying is...Let go! Let them have at it. It's going to get messy, and that's o.k.
In the first grade classroom book clubs will look and sound different from their upper grade counter parts. After all, this is the first time my kids have participated in a book club. A big part of the learning is to expose them to what book clubs are and  how we participate in book clubs. First graders will study a topic and then talk and listen to each other as they share their learning.  The final piece is to sharing their learning with the entire class.

First, I presented the topics: Snakes, butterflies, turtles, polar bears, and wicked weather. I chose the topics based on the books that were in my classroom library and based on the interests of my students. For example, I have a group of boys who love snakes. I knew right up front that I would make snakes one of the topics for a book club. Next, students were placed in groups according to reading levels. It's tempting to put students in mixed ability groups so that students can help each other. However, by placing kids in leveled groups your stronger readers are not taking over and your lower readers are more likely to add their voice to the conversation. After that, groups chose their topics and got to work. They read their books during independent reading time and jotted notes on Post-its. Later, they shared and discussed their notes with the other members of their groups. Finally, the created posters to share their information with the class. Every group was required to represent their findings using a poster. I could have given them choices as to how they would share their findings but I felt that too much choice would be confusing for our first time working in book clubs. Even though they were all using posters, I still had kids asking me if they could draw pictures on their posters, or if they could use markers, or could they show words and pictures, etc. My response to each question was..."I don't know. I'm not in your group. You'll have to discuss that with the other members in your group and see what they think about that idea."

I'm convinced that giving them too many options would have made things a bit confusing for our first time out of the gate. However, you know your kids best. Perhaps your kiddos would be able to handle having lots of options right up front. The consensus from other first grade teachers that I've chatted with, who were also doing book clubs, was that giving them too many options was a lot for them to take on.

Additionally, my students are accustomed to using their Wonder Books two to three times each week. We use these books to record our wonders using the Wonderopolis website. I think our book clubs went very smoothly since my students were already comfortable with "wondering" and asking questions. In the beginning of the school year I had student who didn't know how to wonder. Or at least, they didn't THINK they knew how. Those same students now typically record five or six "wonders" in their notebooks each time we do a wonder of the day. I'm really proud of the work these students did. Take a look and let us know
what you think!
Book Club Weather from Valerie Ruckes on Vimeo.
We are going to do book clubs again in the spring. At that point I plan to give them more choice as to how they will present their information. Now that they have an idea of how book clubs work, I'm sure they can handle having more options and a choice of how they demonstrate their learning. I'm getting excited just thinking about it! Have you tried doing book clubs in a primary classroom? What worked for you? Please leave your comments and suggestions below. I would love to hear you ideas.