Make Read Alouds Electrifying Experiences

A classroom read aloud can be an electrifying experience for students… or utter torture.

The ear, eye and the arm

For my daughter, it was the later when she was in 6th grade. The Ear, Eye, and Arm by Nancy Farmer was the read aloud in her Language Arts classroom that dragged across three months, essentially strangling the life out of any pleasure to be gained from the experience.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting about class read alouds, particularly novels. It started when over the course of one week, two of my colleagues came to my classroom to borrow books: Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper and The Giver by Lois Lowry. Of course, I was thrilled to loan them these fantastic reads. But I was puzzled. One of my colleagues is an 8th grade science teacher, and the other teaches 8th grade algebra. They explained that these books were not for their classes, but instead for their own children. Both teachers had the same problem: Their child’s classroom teacher was stretching a class read aloud across several months and their children were dying to keep reading! Their children were so frustrated by how long it was taking to finish the class read aloud that they begged their mothers to get them their own copy!

I have to admit. When I first started teaching, I was THAT teacher. The one who maybe read “a chapter a day” which meant a class read aloud could take multiple weeks. The one who thought reading instruction was about “teaching books.” “I teach The Watson’s Go To Birmingham, 1963,” I might have said to a colleague.

I’m happy to report that I am a reformed read-alouder who understands that stretching a book out across a lengthy amount of time sucks the joy out of reading for students. We may have the best intentions in mind: to share a wonderful story with our students. But let’s just think about it. We select a fantastic book. We’ve got our students right where we want them: on the edges of their seats ready to devour this great story. And then, we rob them from the excitement of the story by dragging it out across weeks or months????

Here are a few things to consider about a read aloud:

  • Teach reading, not “a book.” There are so many wonderful books to introduce to and share with our students. But we are teachers of reading and our students need to develop strategies and skills that go far beyond any one book or story. One of the most important strategies we want to teach our students is how to fall deeply in love with reading. Shouldn’t this be our number one priority with a read aloud?
  • Select one or two strategies to teach and one or two skills to practice. Perhaps it’s a genre specific strategy so that students understand the unique elements of a genre and can apply this to their independent reading. Or maybe you want to help students strengthen their predicting skills. Think about which strategies and skills can be spotlighted with a particular read aloud.
  • Finish the read aloud in a week…two at the most! Yes, this will require setting aside time to accomplish this, but it’s worth it! Our students need to know that reading too slowly, not just reading too quickly, can compromise comprehension. When so much time passes, the specific details can slip away from our memories. Read alouds should happen frequently across the year in the classroom. Therefore, we don’t need to put all of our “eggs” into any one book as if it will be the only opportunity for a shared reading experience. Multiple read alouds, whether they are chapter books, picture books, digital texts, articles, or poems means multiple opportunities to teach reading strategies and to bolster the skills students need to become accomplished readers.

The excitement students have during a read aloud they love is precious and powerful; it’s like catching lightning in a bottle. When teachers capture this it can be used to demonstrate the electrifying experience of reading.

Sonja Cherry-Paul loves reading aloud to her 6th graders. Nothing is better than hearing the chorus of “No! Please read more! Don’t stop! she gets when she tells her class it’s time to go. Sonja is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee. She has been immersed in reading wonderful books created by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  She is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. 

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Amulet Series is a Must-Have

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When I began teaching 5th grade language arts, I searched websites like Goodreads for books recommendations. Having taught 4th grade for 8 years, I already had a sense of what the age range 8-10 liked to read, but I was interested in finding more titles that appealed to the 10-12 range. I was particularly interested in acquiring high-interest books such as graphic novels, fanfiction books (Minecraft, Lego, Disney), and fly-off-the-shelves chapter books (The Swap, Spy School, The Unwanteds, Mother-Daughter Book Club.)

By chance, I found a recommendation for the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi (Twitter @Boltcity), and I bought Book 1: The Stone Keeper. This was a purchase that would forever change my classroom library. I lent the copy to a student in my classroom, and I asked her if she would do a review of the book. “Will you read it and let me know your thoughts?” I said. She agreed.

She sat down with the book and three minutes later I heard a scream. Not a scared scream, but a scream of delight. Although all heads turned toward her, she kept on reading, eyes glued to the pages. It must have an exciting beginning, I thought. I was right. It has an awesome beginning. One that takes students on a page-turning adventure.

The next morning my student asked me for Book 2. “How was it?” I asked. “Amazing,” she answered. This simple one-word review was all I needed. I purchased all of the books in the series, and she read each one.

A book recommendation from a classmate goes far. Very far. Within 24 hours I had multiple students asking to borrow the book. Within a week, every student wanted a chance. Word spread like lightning. All of my readers wanted to read this series. My voracious readers, my two-books-a-month readers, and my reluctant readers. This series ignites interest in all readers. It is like magic.

As teachers, librarians, and parents, we know that it is difficult to find perfect matches for readers. But this series is one that I bet on every time. It is a winner.

Today the new Amulet Book 7 is released. My class has a sign-up sheet of people waiting in line to read it. We also have a sign on the door celebrating the arrival of Book 7 that says, “Coming Out this Week! Amulet Book 7! Sign Up!”

Thank you, Kazu Kibuishi, for writing such an engaging series. You have many fans- students and teachers!

To read reviews, see the Goodreads write-up, Amazon, and Common Sense Media. For ages 8+.

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Dana Johansen teaches fifth grade in Connecticut. She enjoys reading on the couch with her yellow lab, and she is getting excited for the new season of House of Cards to return. Dana is the co-author of the new book, Flip Your Writing Workshop, due out in April. She believes in balanced blended learning and uses digital texts, flipped lessons, and all things Google to differentiate, be time efficient, and increase her students’ autonomy in the workshop. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. 

 

Help Students Navigate Our Digital Landscape

I love using this video with my 6th graders to introduce the topic of validity as they navigate our digital landscape. It helps to debunk their belief that everything they find online is true.

Our students are spending increasing amounts of time online to complete assignments. To help students develop as researchers and readers of digital texts, it’s important that they can distinguish some key features on a website that can demonstrate its trustworthiness.

So how can students tell if a website is credible? Here are six indicators that experts suggest students pay attention to in order to determine credibility.

Author – Is there a name provided or is there a veil of anonymity?

Date    – How recent has the site been updated?

Sources – Does the author provide where her/his information comes from? Are other sources used or does the author position her/himself as the expert? If so, what qualities this author to be an expert?

Type of Site – Is it a blog, run by an individual, not necessarily an expert? Or is it an online periodical like NYtimes.com?

Site Design – An organized, attractive site indicates time and care.

Writing Style – Are there mechanical errors? Is there a professional or casual tone to the writing?

In addition to students developing the skills they’ll need to determine the validity of digital texts and sources, it is essential that they understand what it means to be good digital citizens. As we celebrate digital learning this week and in the weeks ahead, an emphasis on safety is key.  This includes which sites students can visit, who students are permitted to correspond with, and teaching students to communicate respectfully. Developing clear ground rules that are reviewed routinely and posted can help students participate responsibly as digital learners.

 

Are You Committed to Digital Learning?

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.13.11 PM.pngHappy Digital Learning Day! Digital Learning Day is a day to pause, reflect, and discuss our instructional methods with technology, equity in access to technology, and growing as digital learning edcuators.

We all need to commit to digital learning. Digital learning educators embrace change, continue learning, listen to others, ask questions, and collaborate.

Years ago when I began teaching using the reading and writing workshop model, technology looked like a turquoise iMac desktop computer on a solitary table. Remember those? Its only function was word processing. Over the years, I have adopted a balanced blended-learning style of teaching in my classroom, and we use Chromebooks. My balanced blended-learning teaching style did not happen overnight. It evolved and continues to evolve each day. It continues to grow and change with each new app, website, or tech tool I try. Although it isn’t always easy or intuitive, I push myself to learn and explore new possibilities with technology. We can all be digital learning educators in our school communities.

Are you committed to digital learning? 

1. Do you try new digital tools?  When I first tried flipped learning, my first lesson was a flop. But I was so happy that I tried! I felt proud of myself. It was outside my comfort zone, but I learned a lot and the next lesson was a success. When you try a new digital tool you are learning. You are taking a step in a new direction and trying something new with technology. This is what digital learning for educators is all about.

2. Do you explore new websites and use them in your classroom? How often have you heard about a new online site and you checked it out? This is how I found Wonderopolis, Kahoot, Nerdy Book Club, and just yesterday- Stormboard– a site similar to Padlet that has virtual graphic organizers for brainstorming ideas. Try it out. See if it might work for your students. When you explore new sites and bring a fresh, new digital site to your classroom, you are being a digital learning educator. Share your knowledge too! Bring your new find to a faculty meeting, a grade level meeting, or blog/twitter post.

3. Do you do professional development through social media like Twitter? Join twitter and get involved with online professional development. Not only will you learn about so many awesome new digital tools to use with your students, you can meet some many new people who share your interests and passions. You become a digital learning educator when you connect and share with others via technology. Be brave! Join a chat or get started with #NT2T, a chat for New Teachers To Twitter.

4. Do you learn about technology from your students? Teachers and students must learn together, from each other. I have many students who know a great deal about technology.Just yesterday, I learned about the app, Musical.ly. It is an app that helps create music videos with cool effects. I learned about this app from my fifth graders at lunchtime. I am never surprised that they know so much more about technology than I do. I see it as my job to do some investigating to see if their new tech interest can help us in the classroom.

5. Do You Ask for Help? A digital learning educator knows that he or she should ask for help when stuck. I’ve googled, yahooed, and youtubed my way through many mishaps with technology. It’s the first thing I do. If it breaks or I don’t know how to use it, I google it. But when all my troubleshooting options are used up, I ask for help. Everyone knows that they don’t know everything and will have to ask for help. This is how we learn. Don’t be afraid to ask your tech support staff, colleagues, or students for help. A digital learning educator asks for help. Just never give up!

I’m sure that you answered YES to one or more questions above. This means that you are a digital learning educator. Digital Learning Day reminds us all that we can learn, grow, and improve our instructional practices with technology at our schools. I need to remind myself of this more often and keep moving forward. A leader with technology doesn’t need to be a computer science expert. He or she just needs to persevere, try new tools, and be willing to change as the technology changes. As technology continues to change rapidly, it is more important than ever that we act as digital learning educators in our school communities.

 

Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in snowy Connecticut, reading on the couch with her yellow lab, and getting excited for the new season of House of Cards to return. Dana is the co-author of the new book, Flip Your Writing Workshop, due out in April. She believes in balanced blended learning and uses digital texts, flipped lessons, and all things Google to differentiate, be time efficient, and increase her students’ autonomy in the workshop. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. 

Digital Texts Teach!

Tomorrow is Digital Learning Day, a day where we celebrate and reflect on the use of technology in the classroom. We want to celebrate this day by writing some blog posts this week about the ways we use technology in our balanced blended learning classrooms.

We believe in the power of the digital text- the photograph, the movie clip, the home video, the website, the advertisement. These digital texts can act as mentor texts in our reading and writing workshops. We believe in balanced blended learning. We love our chart paper, Post-its, and clipboards. But we also love using technology (such as Chromebooks, Zaption, Kahoot, Padlet, and Screencastify) to help differentiate and strengthen our students’ understanding of concepts.

We talk about how to use digital texts and digital bins in our book, Teaching Interpretation. These digital texts help teach students about the literary elements: symbolism, theme, tone, etc.

Below are two examples of how digital texts can be used to teach. For more ideas see our blog posts: La Luna, Shirley the Elephant, Persuasive Writing with Bacon, Friendship Digital BinThe Final Countdown, or our book, Teaching Interpretation.

FIRST EXAMPLE- Reading Workshop

Topic- Inferencing. How does the main character feel?

Teaching Point- You can infer the character’s feelings by paying close attention to their actions/movements and what they are saying.

Digital Text: Girl’s First Ski Jump

 

SECOND EXAMPLE- Writing Workshop

Topic- Writing a Prophecy

Teaching Point- Writing a prophecy includes what is lacking, what can save them, and what specific signs/details to look for.

Digital Text: Lego Movie

 

Visit our blog again for more digital texts that can be used to teach reading and writing skills. Digital texts increase engagement, make connections between students’ reading/writing in the classroom and their reading/writing online outside the classroom, and digital texts help make our teaching relevant across a wide variety of texts: digital and print-based. Happy Digital Learning Week, everyone!

 

Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in snowy Connecticut, reading on the couch with her yellow lab, and getting excited for the new season of House of Cards to return. Dana is the co-author of the new book, Flip Your Writing Workshop, due out in April. She believes in balanced blended learning and uses digital texts, flipped lessons, and all things Google to differentiate, be time efficient, and increase her students’ autonomy in the workshop. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. 

Sonja Cherry-Paul is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee. She has been immersed in reading wonderful books created by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark.  She is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach. 

Top 10 List: What We Love About Teaching!

It’s become our tradition on this blog to write a Valentine’s Day Top 10 List, and we look forward to writing it each year. We feel so blessed each and every day to do what we do- teach. We are classroom teachers. We teach students, not curriculum, and we know that each year will be different, each class will be different, and each lesson will be different. We look forward to the successes and challenges each school year brings, and we can’t imagine doing anything else.

Here is our Top 10 List of what we love about teaching. #1 is our absolute favorite part!

10. Little notes like this one, left anonymously on the white board.

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9.  Handmade cards and artwork proudly offered as gifts.

8. A student racing into class in the morning to debrief the novel she just finished.

7. The moment when students squeal and scream with delight because the box from Scholastic or Amazon arrives with new books.

6. The terribly corny jokes told that are somehow ridiculously hilarious!

5. Hearing about the playdates, visits with family, sports games and important moments of students lives outside of school.

4. The smell of fresh, new chart paper.

3. When a student writes a “drop the mic” introduction to an essay…and knows it!

2. Post-its! Honestly, how did anyone ever survive without them?

1. Sitting together as a class, reading a picture book or chapter book. The most joyful moments of teaching are the simple ones. The one where we are all together, sharing an experience together.

Encourage Students to WONDER with Nonfiction Digital Texts

Questions are the door to human wonder. Mine them with a pick ax. All kids have questions (23).

~Stephanie Harvey in Nonfiction Matters: Reading, Writing, and Research in Grades 3-8

All students wonder. All students have questions. Adults do too. Sonja and I are huge fans of the site Wonderopolis, a site that asks and answers people’s wonders. We love using this site with our students because it increases our students’ motivation to ask questions, research, and read nonfiction. Another way we encourage our students to wonder and read nonfiction is to create nonfiction digital bins.

Using digital texts when teaching nonfiction reading and writing units helps students ask questions and wonder. Here is one of our favorite nonfiction digital texts, “PBS: Shirley the Elephant.” We use this text for nonfiction minilessons on reading, research, writing, and persuasive writing.

Get ready to break out your tissues! This digital text discusses the life of the elephant, Shirley, who is moved from a zoo to an elephant reserve. Don’t worry, Shirley’s story is a happy one!

Part 1- Shirley’s life at the zoo.

Part 2- Shirley’s new life.

 

10 Ways to Use this Nonfiction Digital Text:

  1. Generating questions and wonders!
  2. Identifying facts and taking notes for research/ nonfiction writing.
  3. Argument writing – Students studying captivity could use this text.
  4. Using a variety of sources and evidence in nonfiction (photos, video, interviews, etc.)
  5. Learning from a documentary.
  6. Adding to a nonfiction digital bin about animals or animal captivity. See our November 12 post about Sea World digital texts.
  7. Locating the main ideas or central themes of the digital text.
  8. How to use a digital text for research
  9. Teaching multiple perspectives. What the different perspectives represented in this digital text.
  10. Use texts such a The One and Only Ivan or Owen and Mzee to discuss animals in captivity, animal perspectives, and unlikely friendships.

 

Dana Johansen spends her time teaching fifth grade in surprisingly snowy Connecticut, taking long walks in the woods with her yellow lab, and reading the False Prince series by Jennifer Nielsen. Dana was very excited to find out what was at the bottom of 10x on the show, The Curse of Oak Island, last week. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She believes in balanced blended learning and is the co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop.