Bing! Round 2! And a distraction…


Ah, round two of the #cyberpd summer read. Chapters 5 and 6 are where Vinton dives into the practical aspects of teaching for deeper meaning and creating opportunities for problem-solving. This is my comfort zone when it comes to reading and thinking about educational practices; I’m a details person, a concrete thinker much of the time who needs to hear about the mechanics of how something works before I can really think about it with a wider lens.

Chapter 5 spoke to me in so many ways. Whether they are reading for pleasure or for class, kids have such a hard time with “figuring out the basics”. Chapters with alternating voices, books with flashbacks and time switches, too many pronouns, elements that I think make a book more interesting often make it confusing to students. They bring it back unread, telling me it was ‘boring’. Boring = “I didn’t get it, and I couldn’t figure it out”. Much of the time, but not always.  So many kids read just for plot, they can’t recall the title of the book, characters’ names or details about the setting, but they can give me a play-by-play of the action. They miss the humor, the wordplay, the patterns, the world-building in a good fantasy or sci-fi; so much is lost in the whirlwind of reading quickly to see how it ends.

The core practices that are shared in both chapters have helped me to think about how I can adapt them to my work in the library to help students dig a little deeper in their reading, to appreciate a book for more than just the plot points. Or to just mark it as “read” on their mental lists of things they have accomplished. 

-Can I use sophisticated picture books with 5th graders to demonstrate how to think deeply about a text in a 40-minute class period? Will they find ways to transfer that learning to their own reading? Some will, some won’t.  

-Can I create some open-ended questions for kids to think about in their independent reading that isn’t text dependent so everyone can answer it within the context of their individual books? I’d like to think so.

-Could they do “Turn and Talks” about their independent reading answering three specific questions with their partner? Maybe.

It feels piecemeal, but maybe something is better than nothing. Or maybe, I can try things out with students, talk to teachers as I go, and find ways to collaborate more often throughout the school year.

I’m curious. As people read these chapters and reflect on their own teaching will you be completely overhauling what you do, or will you be trying bits and pieces to see how it goes? Do you have the flexibility in your workplaces to make big changes? I’ll definitely be reading people’s responses to these more practical chapters with that in mind. What about collaboration with other teachers in your school? Can you reach out to the science teachers to think about how kids read and respond to nonfiction texts? Or working with librarians to find new and different texts that might meet your needs?

As always, so much to think about.

And, here’s a pretty picture of blueberries that are just ripening in my backyard, making focus on work things difficult.  What’s your distraction this summer? 



Modern Classics for Middle Grades?



Like many libraries we keep lists around the library to help students find books, make selections and generally try to encourage independence with reading choices. One of the lists is a “classics” list for our 4th through 6th graders and it includes titles such as Charlotte’s Web, The Book of Three, The Phantom Tollbooth, James and the Giant Peach, etc… you get the idea.

Over the past few days I’ve been talking with my 6th graders about many of the “classics” and how many of them they have actually read cover to cover, or had read to them. Most of the books listed had at least one or two readers, but very few kids had read more than five or so on the list. It was kind of surprising, but it did lead to a few kids checking out a classic or two, which was gratifying. However, that was not the particularly interesting part of the discussion. I asked them what books would be considered modern classics, phrasing it something along the lines of “what books are you reading now, or have read recently, that you think have staying power, that will end up on ‘classics’ lists in the future?”

This lead to some really great conversation about books and the difference between books they love to read and books they know are really well-written. Some excellent suggestions came up including Holes, Harry Potter, The One and Only Ivan, Wonder, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles (!). All great choices. A few kids tentatively threw out ideas such as Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games, both of which got some naysayers from the group saying that while they “were great stories, they weren’t particularly brilliant in the actual writing department”. I tried not to steer the conversation in any way, but I have my own thoughts about some more recent titles and wanted to see where the kids landed. It was a fun and surprisingly thoughtful discussion. And lively! Those kids have some strong opinions.

Anyway, it got me wondering what librarians would put on that list. What would you include, or exclude, and why?