Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What Gets in the Way of Pleasure Reading?

We know that two keys to lifelong reading are planning and goal setting. Reading plans may take the form of a bedside book stack, a shelfie, a wishlist, or a virtual to be read list, or a collection of holds in the Overdrive app used by the public library. Anasia has maybe seven books on hold. She is number twelve in line for The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Michelle Hodkin's Mara Dyer series is getting a lot of action in my class this semester!).

Reading plans and reading goals walk hand in hand. If you have a stack of books or a list of titles you want to read next, you have goals.

We are early in our fourth quarter and we are reflecting on where we have been as readers and looking to where we want to go next.

Clara's  reflection.
Today, I am most interested in what is getting in the way of students reading. A handful of students are still not carry a book with them. Instead, they sample books during each reading workshop session. They stand in front of the classroom bookshelves and stare at book spines, browsing for something to read during reading workshop. It reminds me of the after-school refrigerator stare; bored, you open the fridge, feel the cool air and stare at the shelves hoping for a treat. Less than ten percent of my current students are still staring into the book fridge--they are picky consumers, but I haven't given up on them yet.

The remaining students, the majority, are off and reading and have been since Dec/Jan. I can barely keep them feed. Their reading appetites are well developed and they are hungry for books. Even though, students self-report reading anywhere from eight to eighty titles this year, some weeks they seem to read less than others. So I asked them what gets in the way of reading?

Students know. They talked about it at their tables and wrote about it on a quick sheet I gave them. The sheet is half-sized so that students can glue it into their reading journals. I asked students to:  set reading goals, assess themselves as readers using our independent reading learning progression (formerly known as a learning scale) and to discuss what gets in the way of pleasure reading.

Independent reading learning progression; entry level begins at the bottom of the page.
Marks show my use of the progression for whole-class reflection and to share my big picture assessment of  the group . 
 They've read an incredible amount this year.

By the Numbers: Books Read by Table and Class Period. Two to four students sit at each table. 

We talk about many of the books they read but not all of them and likely not more than once per book. My goal is to speak with each reader at least once a week. Students can confer more if they need to, but it is impractical and unrealistic of me to think I can see every student multiple times as they read a single book. My readers read too fast for that. Do yours? 

My own thinking is often confirmed by what students say and write. One said it was more an issue of priorities and time management. Another student said, "it's not what gets in the way--it's more like what takes the place of reading." Ah, "takes the place of" that's what's happening as students mature. I have been watching that happen at home in my son's reading life, so I am not surprised that students experience a shift in their own reading habits too. There are only so many hours in a day, so many minutes in class.

For that student and many others in my tenth grade Pre-International Baccalaureate classes, homework, tests and the sheer volume of content knowledge that must be learned, keeps students from reading for pleasure. These students take chemistry, pre-calculus, German or Spanish, Advanced Placement psychology, Advanced Placement World History as well as debate, computer networking, information technology or a host of other electives.

I get it.


I remember my own pleasure reading taking a back seat to course requirements, but I am reader. I always found a way to read.  I know my readers do too.

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers.
Link up your slice on Tuesdays all year. Thanks, Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna and Beth.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Art Engagements

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers.
 Link up your slice on Tuesdays all year.
 Thanks Stacey, TaraDanaBetsyAnna and Beth.

Students marked their places in the books they are reading. They folded page corners and tapped screens, some slide a photograph or a sticky note between book pages as book marks. I give them a minute to finish a paragraph or find their stopping point. gave students a few minutes to turn and talk to their table groups about the books they are currently reading.

The conversation was hard to contain for some. As her table talk came to an end, Maya spotted Yvonne reading The Evolution of Mara Dyer . She skipped over to Yvonne's table to compare notes about the book.

I. Love. That.

I love that students get excited about the books they are reading. I love that once hooked on a title, students become walking book commercials. Maya convinced me to read the Maya Dyer series earlier in the year and they have become touchstone texts for us.

After reading students went on an art explore to investigate the next Modern Art movement we are using as a lens to interpret and examine poetry for our Art of Analysis pieces. For today's explore I set students up by sharing Susan Rubin's gorgeous picture book, Andy Warhol Pop Art Painter. I talked about Warhol for a few minutes and did a picture walk through the book using the document camera. I pointed out the Lichtenstein image in the book and told students how Pop Artists took commercial products or images from popular culture and made them into art. Then I sent them off to explore with the direction to note five Pop Art artists and five facts about Pop Art in their academic journals.

Clicking, screen tapping, screen sharing, pens scratching and whispers ensued. They discover more Lichtenstein, and Johns, Rauschenberg, Keith Herring, and Romero Britto and more. They discovered that pop artists, especially in the United States: were young and sometimes considered brash and aggressive; created iconic images that commented on manufacturing and commercialism; used primary colors and blurred the lines between high and low art. Oh, we had such a good share and discussion once they'd explored.

Two boys had come into my classroom to make up a common assessment that was given by teachers in my PLC last week. The assessment reviews the standards the teachers have taught by asking students to read Walker's "Flowers" story and answer sixteen or so multiple-choice questions. The boys were quiet and focused on their passage during our reading time; they were nearly finished when I shared the Warhol book.  I told them they could return to their teacher if they were finished and one responded with, "I'm going over my answers."

"Okay," I replied as I continued to walk the room.

By the time I gathered students back from their explore the boys were clearly done.Yet they lingered in the room. I thought they were listening in and sure enough, I got an email from the teacher:

Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 11:27 AM
To: Spillane-Larke, Lee
Subject: 3rd period student

One of the kids I sent to you came back and said “That class is so much more interesting than this class, they talk about art and stuff as a whole class… What does she teach?”

Made my day that quick note--high praise from a fifteen-year-old that remark. I commiserated over email with the teacher. She is a fantastic teacher and while the boy's comment made my day it may not have made hers.

I could have reminded her that things always look better on the other side of the fence, especially to teenagers. The grass is always greener or at least it looks that way sometimes--we  teachers know it isn't.

The comment reminded me that students will engage, even when they're not supposed to, if the content is interesting and they get a little time to dig out the details on their own. Interest and independence matter.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Maroon Office Chair

Today is 31 of 31 Slice of Life posts for the March Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by the terrific team at Two Writing Teachers. The challenge continues on Tuesdays. Swing by TWT to link up or help yourself to a second slice.
Today's "Be Inspired" lead on the daily link up is Maya Woodall's "This Is Just to Say." I thought I'd play with a Williams's poem too as I reflect on the 2015 Slice of Life Story Challenge. 

The Maroon Office Chair (with apologies to William Carlos Williams)

so much depends
the maroon office chair
up to the brown desk
upon which
the silvered laptop

So much about writing, for me, depends on discipline, persistence and trust. It is writing, alone, every day that gets it done for me and sometimes the stuff of life: school and traffic and lacrosse and grocery shopping and a leaky washer and youth group and carpooling--drains words right out of me and leaves that time alone to write stranded on the far horizon of four in the morning or nine at night. 

Last year I learned that to write, I need the people around me to understand why I write and why it is important to me. I learned that I need support, space,willingness and sometimes to be still. As Nancie Atwell once said so much about writing depends on being in the chair writing. I made the time for the chair and writing this month and I'm glad I did.

What a month it has been: a month of practice and paying attention, a month of brainstorming and drafting, a month of noticing and capturing, a month of writing fast some days and writing slow others, a month of reading. I've peeked into classrooms and kitchens and play rooms and libraries in in New York and Indiana and Washington and Orlando and New Jersey and Colorado and even Estonia!  So many places I've been and sights I've seen in slices of life this month. 

Every time I challenge myself to write more I grow as a writer. I am thankful for the practice. I count it all joy--even the slices that came out sort of okay, not so good but good enough good, you know what I mean? 

Thank you for the month and for your encouragement. Thank you for reminding me in more posts than I can count or pin or book mark or Instagram or Facebook or tweet what is important about writing and teaching writers. 

All the best! See you on Tuesday.

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends
a red wheel barrow 
with rain water 
the white chickens.