Monday, June 26, 2017

How to Plan for Novels As Shared Reading

I am a firm believer that my number one job as a Reading teacher is to find a way to get my students to ENJOY reading.  Yes, I also need to make sure that they are making inferences, identifying main ideas, analyzing characters, yada yada yada...But in order to get them able to do those things independently, I need to get them reading.  I believe that my students are more interested in reading as a result of choosing novels for shared reading.  I have tried a lot of things in my eleven years in the classroom.  Sometimes I laugh (or cry) at how little I knew.  I mean, I knew what shared and guided reading were.  But maybe I thought there would be specific SOPs that would just fall in to place when I started.

Today I'm going to share with you just how I make novels and trade books work as my shared reading texts in my 5th grade classroom.  Bear with me, though, because I've put a lot of thought in to my entire year -- yep, I plan my entire year based on our shared reading titles -- and I want to do my best to explain a clearly as possible.  Please note: If you have ANY questions, do not hesitate to comment below with those questions.

STEP 1: Gaining materials:
Shared reading means every students has a copy of novel while a fluent teacher reads aloud, stopping periodically to evaluate the plot, character actions, etc.  This can be expensive, especially if you are not offered any kind of monetary support from your administration.  It has taken me at least 8 years to build up a large collection of class sets of novels.  GOOD novels.  Novels that I LOVE to teach -- not just novels that were cheap and aren't my favorites.  I have purchased some class sets of novels from Scholastic, using both dollars and points, requested class sets of admin was feeling generous, and I've received some awesome class sets from Donors Choose.  This did not happen over night, and there were times when I taught a book I did not love.  As a result of me not loving the book -- my students often felt the same.

I may or may not have a container problem.  
That depends on who you ask.  
I took this picture last year, so some of the titles have changed, 
and my school did away with Journeys.  

STEP 2: Know your school district's curriculum map and map out your entire year.  
I'm lucky enough to teach in a school where I have some freedom over my instructional choices.  Our district's school year is broken in to four marking periods, with a specific list of standards that must be taught during each marking period.  We have access to materials from a publishing company, but my principal allows me to use additional novels, rather than textbooks and workbooks.  I work on STEP 1 over the summer before school starts.  It can be cumbersome the first time I do this, but with time it gets easier.  I use a cutesy calendar that I found for free on Teacher's Pay Teachers, and find that colorful pens.  The first thing I do is write in any school calendar days/holidays.  Next, I look at the online curriculum map provided by my district to see what the major skills are for each quarter.  Then, I choose the novels that best suit those skills.  Then I write those things in, planning a couple chapters per day (this, too, depends on the books and their complexity).

Here are the calendars I created last year.  I taught one 
section of fourth grade and one section of fifth grade. 
Lucky for me a lot of the skills overlapped, 
but I knew I would have the fourth again as
 fifth graders, so I used different titles.  

Here is an up close photo of one of my calendars. They aren't fancy.  
And they aren't in depth as far as the structure of my lessons.  BUT, there 
are no words to describe just how easy it is to lesson plan when I have 
a full calendar sprawled out before me.  We all know that things  happen 
and calendars are never perfect.  There's always some sort of last minute 
assembly, or special project due by 10am, but you weren't told  about it 
until 9:15am.  So, my calendar has changed.  Sometimes things happen out 
of order.  It's natural, and I just have to be flexible.  But the overall structure 
of my year is created for me in this calendar.  And it truly is a lifesaver for me.  

Step 3:  Determine CONSTANTS and VARIABLES across all shared reading texts.  
Whether you plan to read the entire Hunger Games series, or jump around from historical fiction to fantasy fiction, it is important that you have some basic consistencies across all of the books you will teach.  These consistencies will help structure your entire week, month, marking period, and year.  Your kids (and parents) will love you if you have recurring items that are a constant in their novel-studying lives.  To determine these things, you must assess what kinds of things are required for you to teach (some teachers work in schools that separate writing from reading), what kinds of materials are available to you and your students, and how comfortable you are with taking the plunge to focus most of your instruction using novels.  My school uses a separate grammar book, so I teach grammar separate from our novel studies.  We also use Units of Study for writing, which means our long term writing assignments don't always align with those of the novels.  We DO, however, always use our current and past shared reading texts as excellent mentor texts whenever we need to.  

Constant 1:  In my classroom, my vocabulary lists come directly from our novel.  I focus on teaching my students Tier 2 vocabulary words that appear in novels at their grade level.  Tier 2 words are words that are beyond basic sight words and high frequency words, but are not words that are only used in specific domains.  Of course, if we come across a Tier 3 (domain-specific) word, it becomes a point of discussion, but my students' vocabulary lists are Tier 2 words from the chapters we are currently reading.  They receive their list of 10 words (per week) before we read.  When we come across the word, we try to identify the meaning of that word through context clues (and probably some guidance from me, if it the context isn't clear).  Once we've agreed on a definition based on those context clues, someone does a quick online dictionary search on Learner's Dictionary and - BOOM - most of the time our definition is spot on.  This method is two-fold because it allows students to gain new vocabulary from the book versus some random list I found while sipping wine and searching Google.  Second, my students receive guided practice almost daily about how to use context clues to figure out the meanings of new words.  And, for those kids who know how to do this, it is still a confidence booster that they really ARE smart and they really CAN figure these things out if they need to.  

Constant 2:  In addition to vocabulary, I pull comprehension and discussion questions from all of the books we read.  I use these questions to guide our class discussions as we stop periodically to read.  I don't stop all the time, because there is something to be said about fluid reading where we get sucked in to the novels.  But sometimes I stop if I think it's complex section or at the end of a chapter.  Sometimes these questions ask about a character's motive, or a recall of the events leading up to the climax.  Sometimes I turn these questions in to Text Dependent Analysis prompts.  I give a weekly assessment (of student vocabulary) and I usually add some of these comprehension and discussion questions to that assessment.  Students are able to use their novels to answer these questions -- mostly because they require evidence from the text.  

Constant 3: Finally, from the start of the year to the very end, my students are always on the hunt for literary devices in our shared reading books.  Last year, we focused mostly on similes, metaphors, personification, and imagery.  Next year, I plan to expand our study of literary devices.  I have found that being on the constant lookout for these devices has really improved the relationship my kids have with the words on the page.  When we come across these items, they make immediate mini lessons on what good writers do.  We discuss how an author could have said something boring, but instead used an imagery technique that really illustrated the scene with words.  It starts slow, especially with my fourth graders, but as the year progressed, my kids found some great examples of literary devices in their independent reading books as well!    

Variables:  While a lot of my instruction remains constant, there are certain things that I can teach with certain novels that don't work with other titles.  If I'm teaching characterization, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick is one of the best.  If I need to focus on nonfiction text features, a trade book about rain forest food chains is going to be my book of choice.  These variables are often standards dictated by my district, and they are the most important when aligning my calendar to the district curriculum maps.

Step 4: Get to know those books.  
Despite being extremely busy people, it is imperative that teachers are well-versed in the novels they plan to teach.  There are some fabulous items on the internet that can really help you develop lessons, but your kids will know from the start if you are truly vested in a book.  I recommend keeping a notebook with each of your teacher copies of the novel.  Use this notebook every year.  Add to it as you teach, and keep it for the following year.  When you are pre-reading the novel before you teach, pull our your constants (as discussed above), write them down, and you will have them as long as you teach that book.  

 Here is an example of my simple novel notebook.  I tend to read new
novels over the summer, late at night, so they definitely aren't fancy.
 While reading, I underline vocabulary words and write them in my novel notebook.
I also write any discussion or comprehension questions (and their answers) that I
believe are important to revisit during class discussions.

(below) While I'm reading, or even while I'm teaching, I'll make a quick
note with the first letter or the name of the literary device I find.  If my students
aren't on their A-game, I can easily prompt them during our discussion
with these pre-marked devices.   

Step 5: Don't give up! 
This process didn't happen for me overnight.  It may take awhile for you to get in to a groove that works for you and your students.  What's important is if you believe that novels will improve your reading class, that you stand up for what you believe in!  Your kids will love you for making this choice!

P.S., I am in the process of typing up my novel notebooks.  There are no bells and whistles or fancy worksheets.  You will find, however, awesome, age-appropriate vocabulary words, kid-friendly definitions, discussion questions, and endless examples of literary devices.  They are available for sale here.   

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Something that's working...

While I don't blog often, and I don't always blog about teaching, I find that if something really is working well for my kiddos, then maybe I should share.  This post will not lead you to any fancy Teachers Pay Teachers items.  If I'm industrious enough, I may be able to pull some signs together to add to my store for free, but that is not the purpose of this blog entry.

Something I created over the summer is working well.  Really well.  So I thought I would share.

I created a Literary Analysis Wall.  And maybe I thought only a few students would use it, or enjoy it, but right now hands are up in my classroom throughout shared reading.  If there is ANY downtime in my classroom, I am fielding a line of students who are excited to show me something about the book they are reading.

Here is the wall:

To show you how much I lack as a blogger, I started this post back in December.  That was when I had these fancy post-it notes that are so bright in color.  But I ran out of those right around the time I ran out of spending money.  Enter dollar store sticky notes.

Anyhoo...It all started with an important part of shared reading.  I read out loud while all of my students have a copy of the novel.  (For more info on how I teach using novels instead of anthologies, I'm working on a post here.)  First of all, I always read ahead of my students, whether I've read the book before or not.  I make notes in my book before I read it with them, while I read it with them, after I read it with them, over the summer when I take the book home, etc., etc., etc....  My point is that the more experience you have with a novel as a teacher, the more the kids will get out of it.  It helps if you love the book as well.

While reading ahead I make marks right in my book if there's any kind of literary device or examples of something that I want to teach in Writer's Workshop, etc.  I just make a simple 'S' in the margin if it's a simile, or an 'I' if it's an excellent example of imagery.  'I' also represents idioms, but the good news is they are easy to tell apart from each other. For the first couple months of school, I stop during shared reading when I come across an example of a literary device.  It sounds something like this:

"Wow!  What an awesome example of excellent writing.  I love how the author compared Josie to a statue.  And notice how she wrote "Josie was a statue standing above me..."  Did she even have to use 'like' or 'as'?  I wonder what that kind of writing is called when an author compares two unlike things without using 'like' or 'as' -- HANDS UP ALL OVER.  

Then, I pick someone with their hand up and they tell me it's a metaphor (hopefully, they do.  They are still kids, and sometimes they get these things confused, so we use all of it as a teaching moment).  Once we've all figured it out, that student gets a sticky note, writes the title of the book, the quote from the book, and their name.  Then they hang it on the appropriate section of the wall.

Now that we are in June (and this probably started in November), I don't even need to stop.  Hands just shoot up during shared reading.  We stopped so much that some days I have kids keep their notebook open and they just write the page number and go back when we are done to tell me, so we can just keep reading.

And then it gets better.  Every.Single.Day. at least twelve students are standing next to me with their own independent reading books open to show me a literary device.  Sometimes they have it, and sometimes they are close, but their imagery example is not juicy enough.  High level readers, on level readers, low level readers, COMBINED.  One parent actually told me during my last conference with her that she was yelling at her daughter one night.  She told her she was acting like some animal I can't recall at this moment.  Her daughter whipped her head around and screamed back, "THAT'S A SIMILE!"  We all shared a laugh, while I silently cheered for that little girl who has come a long way since she started at my school in September.

The bottom line is that my fourth graders (who will become my fifth graders) are paying close attention to their books.  They are in tune with what they are reading.  And, a few seconds with one child will sometimes help me help them realize that an example may seem like imagery, but it's really just a detailed description versus a description with sensory words.

Happy June!