Saturday, August 29, 2009

From the Future of Reading series on
Students Get New Assignment: Pick Books You Like

JONESBORO, Ga. — For years Lorrie McNeill loved teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Harper Lee classic that many Americans regard as a literary rite of passage. But last fall, for the first time in 15 years, Ms. McNeill, 42, did not assign “Mockingbird” — or any novel. Instead she turned over all the decisions about which books to read to the students in her seventh- and eighth-grade English classes at Jonesboro Middle School in this south Atlanta suburb.

Among their choices: James Patterson‘s adrenaline-fueled “Maximum Ride” books, plenty of young-adult chick-lit novels and even the “Captain Underpants” series of comic-book-style novels.

But then there were students like Jennae Arnold, a soft-spoken eighth grader who picked challenging titles like “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest J. Gaines and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, of which she wrote, partly in text-message speak: “I would have N3V3R thought of or about something like that on my own.”

The approach Ms. McNeill uses, in which students choose their own books, discuss them individually with their teacher and one another, and keep detailed journals about their reading, is part of a movement to revolutionize the way literature is taught in America’s schools. While there is no clear consensus among English teachers, variations on the approach, known as reading workshop, are catching on.

In New York City many public and private elementary schools and some middle schools already employ versions of reading workshop. Starting this fall, the school district in Chappaqua, N.Y., is setting aside 40 minutes every other day for all sixth, seventh and eighth graders to read books of their own choosing.

In September students in Seattle’s public middle schools will also begin choosing most of their own books. And in Chicago the public school district has had a pilot program in place since 2006 in 31 of its 483 elementary schools to give students in grades 6, 7 and 8 more control over what they read. Chicago officials will consider whether to expand the program once they review its results.

None of those places, however, are going as far as Ms. McNeill.

Read the rest of the story here. There is also a slideshow of pictures from Ms. McNeill's classroom here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Back-to-School Read Alouds and JCL Ning!

Recently, I've had two conversations with two primary teachers in very different stages of their careers: the first is a former student who is getting ready to be a first year teacher and the second is a veteran teacher of 20+ years. The first year teacher has worked diligently over the summer to collect a small classroom library of books; the veteran teacher has 87 boxes of books. No matter the difference in the number of books in their classrooms, both teachers are dedicated to having a quality classroom library.

The question I wish I had asked both of these teachers is: "What is going to be your first day read aloud"? I wonder if there are differences in the selection of the first day read aloud between new teachers and veteran teachers. How do you decide on the very first book you read aloud to your students...the one that sets the stage for all the other read alouds...the one that says "I love to read, won't you join me?"

I would love to hear your thoughts about first day read alouds. However, the blog is not the best medium for ongoing discussions. So, I've started the Joy of Children's Literature Ning! What's a Ning you ask? A Ning is a social networking site like Facebook that is appealing to people who want to create their own social networks around specific interests with their own visual design, choice of features and member data. On the JCL Ning, I've started a forum on first day read alouds. Just click on the link below to go to the JCL Ning.

Visit The Joy of Children's Literature

Please join and share your thoughts. If you would like to start a group or forum on other topics around children's/YA literature, feel free to start your own discussion. I think the JCL Ning can be a great place for us to share our thoughts and ideas! Let me know what you think.

National Book Festival News

James Patterson, Nikki Grimes, Sharon Creech, Kate DiCamillo, Sharon Hale, Lowis Lowry, David Shannon, Mo Willems, John Sczieska, Judy Blume, Jerry Pinkney, and Jacqueline Woodson will be among the children's/teen writers and illustrators joining the lineup for the ninth annual National Book Festival, to be held on the National Mall in Washington, DC, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 26. The event is free and open to the public. These authors are among the more than 70 celebrated writers and illustrators participating in this year’s event.

To provide festival-goers with the latest event news and information, the Library of Congress has added a variety of social networking features, including updates through Twitter and Facebook. To receive up-to-the-minute information for this year’s event such as author activities, day-of event details and much more, follow the Library on Twitter (@librarycongress, hashtag #nbf) or become a Fan of the Library on Facebook (

For more information, visit the National Book Festival website.

Three Resources for Back-to-School

Where I live and work in Virginia, school does not start back for another month. In other words, we are still in full summer vacation mode. However, schools across the country, and even in some parts of VA, start back soon or have already started. So, today's post is about three online resources that provide great ideas and tips for back-to-school.

This newsletter is chock full of great ideas! My favorites for teachers are on creating a classroom library and a literacy-rich environment. Other articles include ideas for back-t0-school night and a parent involvement checklist. Another favorite is an interview with Grapes of Math author Greg Tang! There is much more, such as websites for interactive white board games, websites for teaching and learning, and ideas for parents.
This issue of CC includes an annotated list of back-to-school read alouds. young adult books featuring gay teens, and a list of professional development books for teachers on teaching grammar and spelling. These resources are invaluable for adding meaningful selections to a classroom or professional development library.
The folks at Choice Literacy who publish The Big Fresh never fail to provide great resources for teachers. These resource aren't just lists or written ideas, often they include short video clips and photos, which are invaluable for visual learners like me (a picture is worth a thousand words). This week's newsletter is about building community, which is by far the most important thing a teacher can do to set the stage for learning all year long. Features include "All About Us" bulletin board and great writing quotes for the walls, nooks, and crannies of your classroom, a collection of links to videos that build interest in favorite children's books, and a "starting school" list of read-alouds with very young learners.

That's it for now! More resources later.