Meeting Your Students’ Authentic Reading Needs with Goodreads

I recently started reading Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. Two quotes stand out sharply to me. The first:

“I believe that this corporate machinery of scripted programs, comprehension worksheets (reproducibles, handouts, printables, whatever you want to call them), computer-based incentive packages, and test practice curriculum facilitates a solid bottom-line for the companies that sell them, and give schools proof they can point to that they are using every available resource to teach reading, but these efforts are doomed to fail a large number of students because they leave out the most important factor. When you take a forklift and shovel off the programs, underneath it all is a child reading a book.”

Amen!

“I am a reader, a flashlight-under-the-covers, carries-a-book-everywhere-I-go, don’t-look-at-my-Amazon-bill. I choose purses based on whether I can cram a paperback into them, and my books are the first items I pack into a suitcase. I am the person who family and friends call when they need a book recommendation or cannot remember who wrote Heidi. My identity as a person is so entwined with my love of reading and books that I cannot separate the two.”

The best literacy teachers I know of are these kinds of readers. And they do it without the “corporate machinery” of literacy instruction.

It’s obvious why, isn’t it? For one thing, they are able to give timely book recommendations tailored to students’ needs and interests; their kids don’t need those drill-and-kill comprehension worksheets when they are already talking excitedly about that book you helped them find! More importantly, these teachers have thoroughly shaken off the hypocrisy of teaching students to embrace something they themselves do not. They keep literary enthusiasm front and center, regarding books as familiar friends, rather than as benchmarks to “pass off.” They are the embodiment of those “not the filling…a pail, but the lighting…a fire” (William Butler Yeats). Our literacy teachers should be the best readers around.

Yet, for me personally, I admit that I have felt overwhelmed by these prodigious teacher-readers. I love reading, but I have limitations that make me worry that I wouldn’t be able to meet my students’ needs as well as they can.

For me, those limitations here boil down to problems: #1) I’m a slow reader. #2) I have a terrible memory for book titles.

Enter Goodreads. Though I’ve had an account for years, I’d always considered it to be too cumbersome to use regularly. But the two features below have at last shown me how my efforts there can be richly rewarded and magnified to meet my students’ and my own reading needs.

Problem #1: Slow reading 

I don’t read the volume of books that these teacher-readers that I admire do. Without that volume, it’s difficult to offer suggestions that sufficiently meet their needs and interests. But as I sort books that I have read into custom digital shelves on Goodreads (see below), it generates recommendations based on the genres/levels of those shelves. This allows me to leverage the reading/reviews of millions of other readers to help me get that perfect book in my students’ hands.

Problem #2: Memory for titles

For the still-many books I am able to read, the titles tend to swirl together over time, making it difficult to pull one out for a timely student recommendation. Goodreads solves this problem by allowing me to sort and “shelve” these books into a personalized library with custom categories.

To an outsider, my many shelves may seem like madness, but for me, I know they will help me pick out the trees in the forest, so to speak. Some of my current shelves include:

  • 5th grade: Friendship (titles like WonderFlora and UlyssesThe Inquisitor’s Tale: Or the Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog, Three Times Lucky…)
  • 5th grade: Other-Worldly-Whimsical (The Magician’s Elephant, The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas, The Wild Robot)
  • 5th grade: Overcoming Odds (Rules, Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller, Holes)
  • Picture books: Challenging Status Quo (“In Mary’s Garden,” “Rosie Revere, Engineer,” “Cinder Edna,” “Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music”)
  • Picture books: Loss and Emotion (“The Heart and the Bottle,” “Boats for Papa,” “Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgois”)
  • Picture books: Unexpected Endings & Humor (“Stuck,” “The Skunk,” “The Wolf’s Chicken Stew”)

Bonus feature: Integrate your search with your local library’s database!

Today, I added a button to my account that takes me from a book page on Goodreads directly to the book on my library’s online catalog. This allows me to check availability and to place a hold that much more easily! Here’s a link to help you learn how to add the button. If you run into any trouble, just contact Goodread’s customer support and they will add your library for you so you can select it from their list! 🙂

Whatever your strategy–whether through Goodreads or more regularly scheduled library visits–our students will reap the benefits when we choose to commit to move toward greater authenticity as readers ourselves.

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Collaboration: #BetterTogether

I recently came across an excellent post by Mr Jonathan So about reflection. One particularly honest and humorous line jumped out to me:

“…reflection for me started off as that one off we did with our kids or some fancy worksheet that made me look like I was reflecting but you know you weren’t.”

We are so good at this as human beings, aren’t we? Doing that token, “See-I’m-doing-it” thing without really gaining any (lasting) benefit from it (I’m looking at you, underused gym passes!). But we’re also really good at seeing right through the smokescreen; we know when something is really making a difference in our lives.

I feel like collaboration can be a lot like this. Most people laud its benefits, but when it comes down to it, how often do our work relationships feel truly symbiotic and meaningful? I know I have definitely been guilty of going through the motions to look more collaboration-y than I really felt in the past, especially when I didn’t feel like my ideas held a lot of value to others.

However, lately, I’ve been thinking about examples I’ve seen of collaboration with truly beautiful results. Many of my favorite Youtubers often come together to enhance one another’s talents, work, and reach. For instance:

Some might view this as simple commercial tactics. But I appreciate the collaboration for two key reasons: #1–it yields new creations that would never had been possible if everyone continued to be islands unto themselves. #2–I receive the opportunity to connect with new artists, innovators, and ideas through individuals I already admire and respect.

As I’ve contemplated all this, more examples of teachers achieving this #BetterTogether concept have caught my eye:

  • The concept behind this site‘s “Give one, Take one” for Hyperdocs lessons.
  • This co-written blog post by Cori Orlando and Kevin Feramisco.

Most recently, I have decided accept a challenge to work more closely with other educational bloggers to help us draw together, improve our own blogs, and benefit our readers. I’m looking forward to greater levels of authentic and meaningful collaboration through this challenge!

Here are their blogs. Take a look!

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Sometimes, Nothing Goes According to Plan, & That’s OK #TeacherMom

Sometimes, the toddler refuses to say he’s finished with his cookie, but also refuses to take more than one infinitesimal nibble at a time.

Sometimes, the baby decides the whole afternoon nap thing (which happens to be your blogging time) isn’t his cup of tea anymore.

Sometimes, your first grader just needs a tea party–and by golly, you need one, too.

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We make these rhythms and routines for ourselves, hoping to create a sense of order and achievement out of each day. And then we get annoyed when they get out of sync. And we get impatient for things to get “back to normal.”

But maybe that’s never what was normal to begin with.  

Maybe, I’m most in-sync when lunch with my toddler takes longer–longer to pretend our fingers are little people dancing on the table, longer to chat about Batman, longer to exchange goofy grins.

Maybe I’m most in-sync when the baby ends up needing to be walked to sleep for a bit and then snuggles down for his nap on my chest in the baby carrier.

Maybe I’m most in in-sync when I’m pouring imaginary tea with my 6 year-old.

The bridge to the world of education here is very short indeed.  It reminds me of a section that resonated most in Taryn Bondclegg’s latest post: her description of the internal struggle when it comes to letting go of our careful “plans:”

“Yet I have to admit, I had an internal struggle. The teachery teacher side of me kept saying “Hurry up! Move along! There is content to get to! You are behind your team! Report cards are coming!” While the inquiry-teacher side of me kept saying “Slow down. What’s the rush? Follow your students. Notice the learning that is happening everyday.”

That word “notice” particularly stands out to me. It seems to me that “hurry” and “notice” are almost always nemeses.

When we hurry to start the day, do we notice who seems to have had a really rough morning?

When we hurry through our lesson, do we notice the thoughtful questions that deviate from the plan (though they might take us somewhere even better)?

When we hurry our assessments, do we notice the growth and small victories as well?

And yes, we do have obligations and content and testing to answer to. But if we are continually rushing to keep up, both as teachers and as parents, we are much more likely to miss the good stuff. The stuff that puts us most in-sync. The stuff that makes us connect most as human beings.

Slow down. Notice. And don’t worry when things don’t go to plan. That’s usually where the best learning and connecting happens anyway. 

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Provocation: To Thine Own Self Be True

I want to start this week’s provocation article by re-sharing a quote from Paul Solarz that was included in Adam Hill’s post on launching Genius Hour with his students:

“Too many children today go to school only to bide their time until they get home and do something that truly interests them.”

Paul Solarz, Learn like a PIRATE

The more I think about this, the more it makes sense that those same children grow up to continue to spend large blocks of their lives–even careers–“biding their time until they get…to do something that truly interests them.”

Meanwhile, they might never truly learn what their own passions are, let alone practice them.

To me, it all comes down to assumptions. How we should spend our time, our money, our relationships, our energy, our intelligence–it’s all dictated based on preconceived notions from, well, almost everyone around us.

Today, I want to share two resources that rock that idea to the core. The first is a beautiful autobiographical comic from Bill Watterson–a man who turned down millions of dollars to authentically pursue his passion and craft.

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The second is a video entitled “The Millennial Rebuttal.”

You might take a look at these provocation resources and think, “Yeah, but tomorrow, I need to teach fractions, phonics, and the anatomy of an apple. What place does this have in my instruction?”

The answer is, the highest place. Untraining students from the dependency on others’ assumptions will help them better familiarize themselves with their passions, develop their critical thinking, unlock their ability to problem-solve creatively, and own their learning process.  We have trained our students to sit passively and wait to be told what the priority is long enough. It’s time to help them look at the big picture, and to discover what matters most.

Provocation Questions:

  • Why are cultural messages (“they say”) often at odds with reality? Where do they come from?
  • What are other cultural messages you’ve heard that don’t line up with your experience/values?
  • What does it mean to “invent your own life’s meaning?”
  • To assume means to act like you know something about a person or how something should look based on your experiences. How do assumptions impact individuals and societies?

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The Urgency of Teaching (& Practicing) Curation

Your professors might have given you a list of amazing mentor texts, but did they teach you how to discover them for yourself?

They might have trained you to master certain tech platforms or skills. But did they teach you how to seek out new ones as the old ones evolve and/or die out?

They might have shared a phenomenal video that inspired you to your core, but did they share the source and their own process for accessing such resources?

“Teaching a man to fish” has always been serious business in the education world, but the art of curation is a distinct skill, and is becoming increasingly essential amid limitless access. When I graduated from college in 2009, I had yet to recognize the nuance between teaching valuable skills that allow students to gain self-sufficiency, and teaching students to discover the very sources that shape those skills.

This difference is best illustrated by the evolution of my language arts instruction. During my first year, I had been teaching conventions, word choice, voice, etc., with every hope that as my students practiced, they would further build upon their abilities and open more doors for themselves in the future. And they did exactly what I directed them to do. They corrected sentences. They wrote stories. They found impressive synonyms for weak words. But I sensed something was missing.

During my second year, I was introduced to reading workshop units alongside complementary writing workshop units. What I found most striking was the approach of immersing students in relevant, high-quality material at the beginning and throughout each unit.

Suddenly, my students didn’t just correct sentences; they noticed the reasons authors choose different sentence punctuation and lengths to achieve varied effects. The didn’t just write stories; they identified patterns across genres and chose their own story elements with purpose. They didn’t just replace weak words; they explored the power of all words and became more deliberate in their usage.

They had started to search out books and passages that elicited personal meaning, and kept track of them to inform their writing choices. In short, they were becoming curators.

What’s more, I noticed that this shift was causing me to become a better curator, too. I started to always be on the hunt for high-quality pieces to share with my students. And as we more openly sought and shared examples of work that moved, interested, or persuaded us, we all grew as readers and writers. Curation was the common denominator that allowed us to enter a world of authentic co-construction.

Overall, I learned that curation is not just about learning to navigate the massive amount of information. It’s about making sense of the world, while also making it personal.

What are your favorite ways to help students (and yourself) become better at curating? Please share in the comments.

For a great read on curation, check out:

http://www.spencerauthor.com/2016/09/getting-started-with-content-curation-in-the-classroom.html/

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

An Epiphany: Blog Posting Topic Schedule

You know when you get those moments of clarity that make you giddy with excitement? I’m currently in the thralls of one of those right here!

I’ve been reflecting lately about my blogging habits that I know are holding me back. Like the fact that my brainstorming process reminds me of chicken feed scattered thin across a yard (I have several dozen Google Documents of ideas I start and then abandon to jump to something else). Or the time I waste second-guessing myself before I hit publish. Or the mental energy I squander with worry that since I’m not currently in a classroom, my ideas are less valuable.

But today, I’ve had a stroke of inspiration that I hope will help me better organize, focus, and refresh my thoughts and time. I’ve decided to try joining those bloggers who create weekly topic schedules for their posts:

Mondays: Inspiring Inquiry

Wednesdays: #TeacherMom

Friday: Learning Through Reflecting

Some background on each topic:

Mondays: Inspiring Inquiry

I feel like I’m constantly stumbling across beautiful and thought-provoking images, articles, or videos that I think would make incredible Provocations or conversation-starters for students (for those not familiar with International Baccalaureate or the PYP–Primary Years Program–a Provocation is a component of an inquiry unit that provokes students’ questions and thinking, hopefully orienting them toward that unit). Sometimes I’ll tweet them and sometimes I’ll bookmark them. But I’m generally left with a nagging, back-of-mind worry that I’ll want to find that one resource again for my future students, only to be thwarted by my hopeless lack of organization.

So I’m setting aside Mondays as “Inspiring Inquiry” as a personal goal to not only better organize provocation-worthy material, but to share with my fellow teachers. In addition to publishing my favorite resource of the week, I’ll also plan on listing open-ended questions you can have students consider.

Wednesdays: #TeacherMom

I’m particularly excited about this one. I’ve often heard the advice for bloggers to “write what you know.” As a teacher writing for an educational blog, I never anticipated this being an issue (after all, despite being on year two of my extended parental leave, I still can’t seem to turn off “teacher mode”).  But the longer I’m away from my classroom, the more difficult it’s becoming to reach back to write about my experiences in the classroom. And if I’m not reflecting about personal teaching experiences, I worry about originality–I don’t want to just recycle other people’s ideas.

What’s more, child-rearing has taken center stage on the “what I know” front while I’m home with our three little ones. And I don’t often turn to this all-encompassing aspect of my life for writing inspiration because it’s not the classroom.  

But I recently realized how very silly this has been. Though my students are much smaller, they still offer rich learning opportunities every day. And not only run-of-the-mill parenthood learning (ie, don’t lay down on your picnic blanket during a crowded library storytime, or the toddler behind you might try to pick your nose), but learning that very much uses and extends my professional development as a teacher. So it’s time for those #TeacherMom stories to come to light. Buckle up!

Friday: Learning Through Reflecting

I’m setting this aside to reflect on lightbulb moments on my previous teaching practices. These “aha” moments usually come as I connect with and learn from my PLN–their tweets, blogs, and photos. They also come through keeping up with educational journals and news. 


I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about making this kind of commitment. I know there will be days or even weeks where it just doesn’t happen. But since I want to continue to model important learner qualities to my students (current small ones and future bigger ones), I refuse to let fear of failure keep me from taking a chance that might help me grow and improve.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever tried a blogging topic schedule? What worked for you and what did not? What are your thoughts on the topics I’ve chosen? And I’d also love to hear your feedback on these themed posts as they start rolling out next week!

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Examining Learning vs. Education: Introducing the 2017 HGU Scholarship

Ownership over learning. My favorite element of 21st century education. It stands for much of what has often been missing in the history of formal schooling: encouragement to pursue personal meaning, challenges to take risks, empowerment to share a voice.  As I carefully selected this phrase in one of last year’s prompts, I hoped to witness some of these moments of authentic student ownership through our scholarship’s five creative mediums.

Though the efforts of last year’s applicants were inspiring, authentic, and reflective, it quickly became clear to me that this notion of true ownership over learning is still a mirage for too many of our students. Too many have been trained to believe that ownership is simply working hard enough for the grade, or otherwise looking outward for the measure of success.

But with companies like Google completely abandoning typical hiring standards like GPAs since they have found no correlation to successful employees, and other companies looking for digital portfolios instead of resumes, the traditional model of schooling is quickly becoming less relevant. As Josh Bersin, Founder of Bersin by Deloitte stated:

“Companies want someone who thrives on challenge [and is] willing to learn something new.  [They want] a seeker of information, willing to adapt. If you’re the type of person that wants to be told what to do, you might be a straight A student. In fact you might even be a better student than the other type of person.”

And of course, it’s really much less about what 21st century companies want, and much more about cultivating personal authenticity. It’s just that fortunately, it seems the world is starting to recognize the convergence of the two.

So instead, for this year’s scholarship, we’re asking students to examine the issue themselves. The 2017 prompt is as follows: Represent your views about the concepts of education vs. learning.

It is my hope that it will encourage greater reflection and dialogue on what matters most during the many years we invest in formal schooling.

For additional information on our 2017 creative multimedia scholarship, see the overview here (note the graphic at the top–for someone with a longstanding awkward relationship with creativity, I’m grateful for opportunities for growth like these as I try to lead out in pushing my comfort zone), and detailed FAQ’s for each medium here. It is available to high school seniors and college students with at least one year left of school, and has a deadline of April 16, 2017.

Finally, my reflections from last year’s participation have prompted me to also share a list of some do’s and don’t’s. These are meant to help promote the creativity, rather than to impede it (not to mention, to make sure that we will actually be able to review your submission)!

DO:

  • Do have a great time expressing yourself through your medium! The joy always shines through!
  • Do double/triple-check the sharing settings so we can view your file. There were quite a few that we could not evaluate last year because of this.
  • Do choose a creative title to help your piece stand out and to do it justice!

DON’T:

  • Don’t try to force a medium for your piece that isn’t a natural fit (ie, submitting a video that is really just you speaking would be better suited as a written piece).
  • Don’t submit a random assignment from a class. The lack of meaning and connection to the prompt is always apparent.
  • Don’t submit a formal ESSAY! This is a creative, multimedia scholarship. The creative writing medium is for creative pieces, including short fiction stories, poetry, screenplay/scripts, monologues, etc.