Building Excitement for Reading – Reading in the Wild Book Study (Chapter 2)

In my classroom, I often find that read alouds quickly build student interest.   I love to read the first book in a series and get the students really involved.  Frequently, students like to continue with a series and/or author I have introduced in class.

Every year around Halloween, I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to my class.  I decorate the room with Harry Potter inspired items.  When it is read aloud time, I put on my Hogwarts cape, Gryffindor scarf,  and Harry Potter glasses!  Then, instead of  a Halloween party, we have a Harry Potter Party.  We have a “potions class” (an ice cream sundae bar) where the students concoct their own creations and we watch the movie.  The students complete an activity comparing the movie version with the book version (meeting standards for the Common Core).  Guess what?  The kids always prefer book.

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I cannot tell you how many students say this was their FAVORITE part of the entire year. Moreover, many of my students go on to read the rest of the series.

Students in my class have become excited about other books I have used as read alouds (he Lightning Thief, Little House in the Big Woods, The Leomanade War, and many others).

I’m not gonna lie.  Finding the time to read aloud is a constant struggle.  However, I believe that it is one of the best things I do as a teacher to build excitement about reading.  I will continue to MAKE the time for read aloud each day.


Creating a Workshop Schedule

Today, I am linking up with Ideas by Jivey and Flip Floppin’ through 3rd Grade to discuss Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild.


At my school site, the upper grades ELA time is 90 minutes.

I have yet to meet a reading teacher who thinks this is enough time.

My Reading Workshop is divided into 3 30 minute sections and is loosely based on the Daily 5 by the 2 Sisters.  However, since I am an upper grade teacher, my “Daily 5” is really a “Daily 4”.  I have taken out the Word Work (my students work with words & complete spelling activities at home.)

Typically, the first 30 minutes is a morning warm-up activity, reading & grammar notebook time, and a whole class mini-lesson.  Then, the second  & third 30 minute blocks are used for rotations.  I have four rotation centers:  novel reading with the teacher, read to self, read to someone, and work on writing.  Each student will complete 2 centers each day.  The following day they will complete the other 2 centers.  Based on this schedule, I see each reading group 2 times a week.

Based on my reading of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, I plan to change my first 30 minutes of my Reading Workshop this coming year.  Instead of a morning warm-up (aka: worksheet), I will have the students read for the first 20 minutes of the day and I will use the last 10 minutes to complete a whole-class mini-lesson.

I have been sooooo excited about this change!  In fact,  I have even discussed it with my grade-level team.  They have agreed to do the same thing!  My colleagues are also willing to hold the 40-book challenge that Miller suggests in her books.  I am hoping that other teachers at my school will join us.

Overall, I have been very happy with my Workshop Schedule.  The students spend most of the 90 minutes READING – rather than completing worksheets and activities (Shhhh!  I don’t use the Practice Book that comes with our Basal Reading Program).  When my students go to Work on Writing center, they are writing about their close reading and are working on text dependent questions/answers related to their reading.  Of course, I would LOVE to have more time to devote to ELA and reading instruction – but I think most teachers feel the same way.

How do you create your workshop schedule?  Do you plan to make any changes (based on your reading of Miller’s book)?

Summer Book Study: Reading in the Wild


Unlike many other bloggers, I hadn’t read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer.  After reading so many great reviews, I was tempted.  When I saw this Summer Book Study for Miller’s follow-up, Reading in the Wild,  I was sold.  I ordered both books right away and started reading The Book Whisperer as soon as the package arrived. What can I say?  I DEVOURED the book.! It looks like a porcupine – with all of my Post-It tape flags poking out!

Now, I am devouring Reading in the Wild.  I have so many thoughts about how this book is going to change my teaching this upcoming year.  Furthermore, because I am the Lead ELA teacher for my school, I have tons of ideas for Professional Development for my colleagues.


Right away, I felt a connection with the authors of this book.  On page 3, Miller & Kelley reflect on the reading logs and crossword puzzles that students are required to complete in order to “prove” they did the required reading.  Although I haven’t had the research to back up my feelings against reading logs, I do not use them in my class (but I think I may be the only teacher in my school that doesn’t require reading logs).  Miller & Kelley refer to reading logs and other related assignments as “counterfeit activities” (page 3).

Before I became a teacher, I was a stay-at-home mother for 10 years.  I can honestly say I have raised “wild readers”.  My babies had bathtub books and cloth books they could chew on.  From their earliest days, I read aloud at the dinner table and at bedtime.  Today, my three teenagers LOVE reading!  They almost go through books too quickly (wink)!

When my children began attending elementary school, they were always assigned reading logs.  They HATED them.  I HATED them.  When you are a wild reader, how do you”log” the five minutes in the car, the twelve minutes waiting at the dentist, or the dozens & dozens of minutes at bedtime?  I’ll admit it.  We just faked the log and I signed it.  I knew my kids loved reading.  I knew my kids were reading (more than the required 20 minutes each day).  The reading logs were just  painful, boring assignments which didn’t reflect what my kids were actually doing.

Because all of the other teachers at my school used reading logs, I tried them for the first few months of my teaching career.   This is what I discovered: The students who weren’t reading faked their logs (and the parents signed them anyway) ; the students that were reading, faked their logs and had to spend precious reading time completing a mindless activity.


Finally, there were those few students that didn’t have any parental support.  They were (unfairly) penalized because their reading logs didn’t have the required signature.  For example, I had one student (“Michael”) whose father was a trucker.  Michael’s father would be gone for days/weeks at a time.  Most of the time, he was under the supervision of his stepmother (who didn’t care).  Michael’s stepmother wouldn’t lift a finger for this great kid.  Why should he have to sit out during recess because his log lacked the required signature?  But, that’s how it worked at my school.

After a few months I gained the courage I needed.  I quietly stopped assigning reading logs – and I have never used them again.

As the years have passed, I have had some of my colleagues’ children in my class.  My fellow teachers are always surprised to learn that I do not assign reading logs.  I explain my rationale and rely on my instincts. Frankly, it has paid off.  I have one less assignment to grade each week – and my students always do very well during state testing.

Thanks to Reading in the Wild, I now have evidence (page 3; page 11) to support what my instincts have told me all along.  🙂

In addition, I like the book’s suggestion to have the students use Goodreads or Edmodo to have “conversations” about the books they have read (page 34).  Personally, I use Goodreads myself.  I also like a site for children called “Kidsmomo”.  I am certainly going to have my students use at least one of these sites this upcoming year!


Finally, the other section that really caught my attention in Chapter 1 was page 8.  Miller & Kelley discuss the research about the correlation between reading time and student performance.  I think I am going to type up this information as a “pretty handout”. I will distribute it to the parents at Back-to-School Night this upcoming year!

(Come back in a few days, and I’ll put it up as a FREEBIE!)

Best,   Michelle


Getting Ready for Earth Day!

Earth Day 2014 is April 22nd. I love to celebrate/instruct on this occasion with activities related to The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.

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We use the text for with our Close Reading Procedures. First, we read the story as a class. Then, we read it again with partners.

After our second Close Read, the students are put into small groups for a Gallery Walk. I have 7 anchor posters around the classroom. The students use Post-It Notes to record their responses about various story elements and they add these Post-Its.  Then, they rotate.  After 3 minutes, they rotate to the next poster.(The kiddos put their student number on their Post-Its, so I know if any individual student is struggling with a concept).
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Of course, we take a small break to enjoy some Lorax-themed snacks for the occasion! I print labels with Brown Barbaloots and other labels with Swomee Swans. Then, I put the labels on the side of clear plastic cups. The Barbaloot snacks are a mixture of chocolate and honey Teddy Grahams with tiny marshmallows. The Swomee Swan snacks are regular Goldfish Crackers (easy). Somehow, they taste better because they are in the special cup! 🙂

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After the Gallery Walk, the students write a summary of The Lorax. Then, they write a personal response about ways THEY will help the environment. This last essay is combined with a Lorax craftivity and is displayed in the classroom. They LOVE this craftivity… and I do, too. It makes an adorable display in the classroom.

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Although The Lorax can easily be used with younger students, there are enough complex literary elements to create worthwhile reading lessons for students in the upper elementary grades. I particularly like to teach the older students a lesson on author’s craft/use of flashback.

In my class, we also do a comparison of The Lorax the book and its movie counterpart. This is great work for Common Core!

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In a day jammed packed with Lorax activities, I end the day a Life Science project. Students design Lorax-themed pots and plant seeds. We combine this with a lesson on photosythesis in my class (but a variety of lessons would work).

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After all of the assignments are reviewed, I send home the pots and the written work (which I put in an orange folder, complete with a Lorax label).

It is so much fun. It is also very meaningful. Hopefully, my kiddos have created fond memories while learning a variety of things for Earth Day.

Do you use The Lorax for lessons during the year? Do you do something special for Earth Day? I would love to hear your ideas!

Technology in Education Conference


My colleagues and I attended recently attended an excellent conference about technology in education.  The best part was the keynote speaker, Alan November.  November is the author of several books, including Who Owns the Learning:

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.  Moreover, if you have a chance to hear November speak live, you MUST go!  Alan November is intelligent and insightful.  He’s also hysterical.  Seriously, my stomach hurt because I laughed so much (he must have missed his calling as a stand-up comedian).

ImageIn the meantime, you can follow Alan November on Twitter at @globalearner and/or @NLearning.

I took copious notes during November’s presentation, but my biggest take-away from the day:

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS start with the curriculum!  What do the students need to learn? Technology should provide clarity to the assignment design.  Also, technology should help us teachers provide effective and timely feedback as we assess our students.

There is a lot of glitz and hype when it comes to educational technology.  It is important for teachers to be informed consumers – and clearinghouses for our students.

How do you use technology in your classroom?  I would love to hear about some of your successes.

Best,   Michelle

Technology in the Classroom

I had a very interesting day at work.  Instead of being in my classroom, I joined my district Technology Committee (including my Superintendent) on a tour of a school that has fully integrated technology in all grades K-6.

The most amazing thing I saw today:  kindergarteners who had learned computer coding.  Our tour guide was a spunky, articulate 6th grader who was also impressed with the coding these little kids were doing.  He quickly explained that he has learned coding, but the school didn’t have all of this technology when he was in kindergarten!  🙂

It has really made me think about my beliefs about education in general and, specifically, how technology plays a role in those beliefs.  What I will do later this year when the iPads and MacBooks finally come into my classroom???  I what to make sure that I am integrating technology into my lessons effectively.

I certainly don’t have all of the answers yet… but I am very excited about all of the wonderful possibilities!

Teacher Modeling for Close Reading

Teacher Modeling for Close Reading

Have you ever skied?  Do you play tennis or golf?  Do you swim or play a musical instrument? All of these skills/tasks are taught through modeling and demonstration.

Did you know that modeling can be equally effective in cognitive tasks?  That is why it is very important to use teacher modeling when planning lessons involving close reading. Researchers have found that most teaching is done in the second person (“First,  you add the digits in the digits in the ones column.” or “When you look at this caterpillar, what do you see?”  ).

However, many experts recommend teaching close reading in the first person.  You can do this easily by modeling your own thinking. In order to model a close reading, experts Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher recommend the following steps:

1.  Naming the strategy or skill (visualizing, using context clues, etc.).

2.  Stating the purpose of the specific strategy or skill.

3.  Using “I” statements as you model the strategy with an anchor text (“I can just imagine the amazed look on Harry’s face when he finds out he’s a wizard!”).

4. Demonstrating the strategy or skill with a “think aloud” in the first person.

5.  Alerting students about common errors; and

6.  Assessing the usefulness of that particular strategy or skill.

Teacher modeling of close reading can easily be done with Big Books and/or document cameras.  Start with a lesson that includes a short, interactive reading and try modeling your own thinking during the lesson.  Then, let me know how the lesson went by posting a comment below!

Welcome to my blog!

Thank you for reading my blog.  I am currently a 4th grade teacher at a wonderful elementary school in California.  As my state transitions to the Common Core Standards, I have taken on the role of the lead English/Language Arts teacher at my site.  As an English major in college, I am very excited to learn about the changes in Reading and Writing that the Common Core will bring to our school!  This blog will document my journey into the new standards.

This blog will also give me an opportunity to connect with the many wonderful teacher-bloggers that I have been reading for the past two years.  I am so excited to connect with you!