How Can I Rethink Reading Logs with High Schoolers?

This post is actually a lengthy reply I left for a reader, who asked me the question via comments in a post I published a year and a half ago. So great to see how what we share online impacts other schools!

Hi Francisco. I appreciate your honest question. I’m not experienced with high school, but I have some thoughts. My initial suggestion is to get your students on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/about/how_it_works). If you are not familiar with Goodreads, it is a social media tool for readers. They can use their Facebook accounts to create an account within Goodreads. Readers can rate and review books, read what others are reading, and have suggestions sent to them based on their past interests (https://www.goodreads.com/recommendations). Students can also make “to-read” lists, selecting what books they want to read next, which all readers should have anyway.

Maybe have them take the Goodreads Book Challenge (https://www.goodreads.com/challenges/), where they select a number of books they plan to read for the calendar year. They can then see their progress as time goes on. They can also recommend books to peers through Goodreads as long as they are “friends”. In addition, the students can download the book titles they’ve read so far into a spreadsheet to share with you periodically. They could also use this list as a way to reflect about their reading, such as what genres they prefer and who has been influential in their reading lives.

I also like the “groups” function of Goodreads, which is an online community around a topic, favorite author, or a genre. Discussion boards can be created within a group. Goodreads is very mobile friendly, so they can use their smartphones and tablets for this purpose at school. One more idea: As students build a substantial list of books they’ve read, they can start creating libraries around the categories of books they have been reading.

If there are privacy/sharing concerns from families or administration, you could also have students use Google Docs to keep track of their reading and thinking, but it is not as authentic. As for strategy work with high schoolers, if they are engaged in what they are reading because they could pick the texts and talk about them with friends, older students have shown that they can teach themselves strategies because they are motivated to read. Our jobs as teachers at this age level is to educate our students about the strategies they are using, which can then lead into future instruction using more complex texts they will need to read closely today and in the future.

As I stated, I do not have a lot of background in adolescent literacy, but reading enough of the research tells me that older students’ reading instruction should be as authentic and relevant as we can make possible. Your students may continue to use Goodreads as they get older, which also helps them leave a positive digital footprint in their future. Using a social media tool would allow your students to continue their conversations with peers beyond the school day. They will be doing exactly what you ask of them with less of the griping, because they won’t see it as school work.

Good luck!

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“Harvest” a Good Book – the @BookItProgram Principal Challenge #youngreaders #cpchat

Today is November 9, 2015 – the first day of the Principal Challenge. It is part of National Young Readers Week, sponsored by Pizza Hut.

Last year I went “hunting” for a good book. Students gave quick book talks for me, and I documented their suggestions for the whole school. This year, our theme is to “harvest” a good book. Our artist-in-residence is a local author, Lisl H. Detlefsen. She wrote a children’s book about a cranberry harvest, a top industry in Central Wisconsin. Lisl and her family run a cranberry marsh. Her book is accurate, engaging and fun to read aloud.

I started the week off by coming into school with my gardening gear – gloves, seeds, my hat, rake, ho, and some locally grown produce. I referred to myself as “Farmer Renwick”, although the students’ first impression was that I was a cowboy. I’ll have to work on my costuming for next year’ theme.

IMG_3942Once I shared a little bit about my own hobby, I tied it the concept of harvest to a book I read aloud to classrooms. Teachers signed their classes up for half hour slots during the day and met me in the LMC. Each book was selected for its gardening/harvest theme and its age level appropriateness.

Grade K-1 selections:

Grade 2-3 selection:

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Grade 4-5 selection:

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Inviting classrooms to sign up for a read aloud with me for the Principal Challenge had a number of benefits. First, the students got to see me in a different light. I was out of the office, dressed up like a farmer/cowboy, and able to share about a hobby of mine (gardening) that was connected to authentic literature. Second, I modeled instruction in front of my faculty. They observed me teaching their students. They also witnessed me making teaching mistakes during the read aloud and discussions. Finally, we set the stage for our artist-in-residence coming later this week. (Not to be forgotten is also qualifying our school for possibly winning 101 copies of the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book!)

IMG_3940 (1)Principals: It’s pretty simple to set something like this up for your school. The best part is you have the rest of this week to make it happen!

(Picture: Previewing Time for Cranberries with my son’s 3rd grade class)

Are You a Thought-Provider or a Thought-Provoker?

I have the upmost respect for catechism/CCD teachers. They volunteer their time to teach students after the kids have experienced a whole day of school already. I had the opportunity to be a fly on the wall of one class recently. I was working on work in the church lobby while my son was with his class, when a group of 8th graders herded into the same area as me. My presence was not noticed. The posturing, the flirting, determining the pecking order…such an awkward and social age. The CCD teacher joined them a moment later. She stepped to the front and got started, showcasing her built-in filter to ignore the hormone-induced behaviors and focus on why she was there.

What happened next really caught my attention. Amid all the chatter, the teacher informed the students to get ready to say the Lord’s Prayer. She listed several intentions for the students to consider before they got started, such as for an ill relative or a friend in need. Once the prayer started (“Our father, which art in heaven…”), every teenager spoke in concert. No one was out of sync. This ritual, augmented by the stated and important reasons for their practice, seemed to make all the difference. Unfortunately, once the prayer was done, the chatter commenced. Getting every student to turn to the same page in the workbook was much more of a challenge.

Do we notice this in our daily instruction? When we ask our students to read the chapter and answer the questions on page 70, what is the typical reaction? What would be your reaction if you were the student? Learning intentions do not mean just posting the target on the board. It is more important that the students are a part of the instruction and see meaning in their work. What if, instead of going to page 70, the students were given a question that had more than one answer, that delved into the grey area of a moral issue that learners, especially teenagers, are developmentally equipped and highly motivated by to handle? Maybe after some modeling, students could start future lessons with a provocative question of their own. Their own questions would probably elicit better answers and deeper understanding than anything we or a textbook could provide.

This line of thinking leads to a very important question that we should ask ourselves as we prepare learning for students: Why am I doing what I am doing? If the answer is difficult to find, we need to either find a different approach or consider whether the topic is worth our students’ time at all.

Technology seems to be the answer that is given to some of these quandaries. “If I could hand each student a laptop, then they could type their answers on a Google Doc, and peers could provide feedback.” Maybe this will engage our students, at least for a while. But the intent of the learning is still unclear and devoid of meaning. If the student’s work could be done on paper and pencil because what they would produce lacks any benefit for a broader audience, then technology is just a replacement.

Our jobs as educators is to be thought-provokers instead of thought-providers. Students can find the answers to the questions on page 70 by doing some simple searches online. An often-shared concern by some educators is that technology may replace them. Teachers are only at risk of being replaced by technology if they continue to operate using outdated practices. Technology has not solely created this condition; it has simply provided the access to a world of knowledge that was formally sacrosanct. We as educators have needed to change our roles from teachers to learners for some time. Technology has accelerated the process. Some of us weren’t ready.

Our students will make meaning if what we present is meaningful to them. This means taking advantage of strengths that may in the past have been seen as problems. “Talking” and “arguing” are fine examples. Students’ social skills have quickly become just as important as their academics, maybe even more so in some cases. If all learning is social, let’s ritualize these practices. Make social protocols such as Socratic seminars and value line ups a regular part of how we learn. Teaching how to find and make meaning, instead of waiting for understanding to be delivered, will benefit our students in ways that the questions on page 70 will never attain.