Rough Draft Thinking

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Please Pass the Books February 12, 2012

Filed under: Education — bvanetten @ 9:27 pm

I’ve been writing a lot here about ways to interest kids in reading. Last week I had a really successful activity toward motivating kids to  read that I want to share.

The day before, I told the students we were going to do a Book Pass activity, and asked them to each bring 1-3 books that they have read and enjoyed with them to school the next day. The day of, I provided each student with a “Book Pass Log,” which provided space to record a book title, the author of the book, and the name of the person who recommended it. Each student put their books on their desks and then walked around the room, perusing books. If they saw something that looked good, they could write it down. I told them that the next time they tell me that they don’t know what to read, or they can’t find anything that looks good, I will remind them to take a look at the list they made during the Book Pass.

It was pretty awesome.

It accomplished what I hoped for (getting students to talk about the things they choose to read and see how much variety there is), but I was surprised by how smoothly it went. I was initially upset because in my first class, less than half the students actually brought anything to share. Luckily though, the activity lends itself well to this situation (which is good, because lesson plans that rely too much on student cooperation and preparation scare me because they are so out of my control) because, although there were fewer books to look at that I hoped for, all the students could still participate. The students who do like to read become the stars of the show during an activity like this, and gives them a little opportunity to show off what they like and to engage with their peers about it. There were certainly some desks that had a higher concentration of students crowded around them, and particular names kept showing up on logs, and those same students were eager to move around the room to see what others had brought. I only had one student with a bad attitude the whole day (he informed me that he was so above his peers in reading ability that they couldn’t possibly have brought anything to interest him). I love the way this activity works toward creating an inclusive environment and also provides opportunities for students to serve as experts in reading and taste.

I also participated in the activity, and the students were excited when I stopped at their desks to write down titles they had brought with them. As a teacher, it’s a great way to see trends in what students are reading and what is currently popular (which is especially good for people like me, who don’t read a lot of Young Adult fiction for fun. It was also a great bonding experience when I came across students who brought books I have read and could have a conversation with them about it.

And the evidence that this had a measurable effect on reading in the classroom? Several students brought copies of books in the Hunger Games trilogy (Suzanne Collins), which sparked conversations about why it was so popular. Students who had brought them were excited to find other kids who had or were also reading it, and made students who haven’t yet get interested. The fact that it is a series and that it is being made into a movie also helps to catch student interest. When we went to the book fair this week, several of my students bought copies of it and one student asked to borrow my copy before the Book Pass activity was even over. There are at least three kids reading it in every section I teach now.


A Drawing is Worth a Thousand Words – and Laughs February 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — bvanetten @ 8:53 pm

This week the kids drew pictures of idioms, and the results were pretty funny



Try it, You Might Like It! January 28, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — bvanetten @ 8:30 pm

I am determined to get these kids to give reading a chance.

More realistically, I want to get them to think differently about reading than they do now, which is that reading is a boring activity that teachers force on innocent children. This Literacy Community project is essential for meeting that aim.

This week I introduced the students to two new long term projects that we will be working on together through the end of the year. The first is a series of book talks which the students will give in class. They were immediately opposed to the idea because they are incensed any time they are asked to speak while standing. On Wednesday, I modeled the book talk, emphasizing that the point was to share a book you like with the class, and a synopsis so the other students can decide if the book might be something they might like reading. I told them that as a class, we seemed like we are in something of a slump when it comes to finding things we like to read. I used The Hunger Games to model what they are supposed to do when they give their own. After I was done, many of the students were asking me if the school library has copies they can read, which I took as a sign that they will respond positively to book talks. [If I can find the video of me modeling it, I will post it below]

I decided that three students will give talks every Friday afternoon. I told them I would let them volunteer, but that everyone had to go by the end of the year. In all three periods I had enough students volunteer to cover the first and second weeks, which surprised me. The student book talks went really well, and I was shocked when some of my students who are the least engaged on a normal day were the first to volunteer. I was also pleased that the other students were respectful and clapped for the students who talked to the class.

The second project I introduced is a class discussion forum on I wanted to use, but its blocked on the school’s network, so we make do. On Friday I had the kids sign up for accounts while we were in the library. My idea is that I will post discussion questions on our class forum and the kids will have to respond once a week. The first question is, “Who is the greatest character in a book of all time?” My hope is that if they spend time on there, they will be exposed to the vast variety of literature that is available in the world, as well as to a social world of people who enjoy reading and willingly engage in discussions about what they read. Unfortunately, the website is not very user-friendly, and I the kids were a little bit frustrated trying to use it. That project is certainly in the experimental stage.

The bottom line is, most students associate reading with homework, and have it in their heads that they don’t like to read. Which means that even when they come in contact with literature they might like, they ignore it. I am endeavoring to institute projects and opportunities in my classroom that break down that attitude, and encourage students to change the way they think about reading.


Connecting With Kids About Reading January 24, 2012

Filed under: Education,reading — bvanetten @ 5:27 am

Laying Groundwork for Literacy Community Building January 17, 2012

Filed under: Education,Literacy — bvanetten @ 4:10 am

Developing A Reader Identity January 7, 2012

Filed under: Education,Literacy,reading — bvanetten @ 8:55 pm
Tags: , ,

After reading about “Literacy Communities” last semester, I was very inspired. I was a kid who always liked to read on my own, and I come from a family of people who enjoy reading. But I was also a normal kid who didn’t think school was all that much fun and who would rather watch TV than read for school (back when Carson Daly was the king of after school programming). But somehow, I was able to develop a “reader identity,” that coincided with my 11-year-old understanding that school was created by adults to torture children. I don’t know how this happened, but as an adult it always makes me sad to meet other adults who say they “don’t read” (sometimes it’s even said with pride, and that’s really depressing). And, fair or unfair, it automatically gives me preconceived notions about that person’s intellect. I assume that smart people read. This declaration usually seems to have to possible sources. The first is that the individual’s youthful disinterest in reading followed them into adulthood, robbing them of many enriching reading experiences – OR that they do in fact read, they just have a very narrow understanding of what reading means.

Whichever reason people have for not being “readers,” I think that the English classroom is a place where students and teachers can create a literacy community where they create and develop Reader Identities, and expand their own notions of what literacy means. I agree with Randy Bomer’s “educational values” that say “To work on academic literacy is not just a matter of teaching the genres that will be valued in future years of schooling. Academic literacy includes those practices, habits, and knowledges that mark one as an educated person.” That is to say, as teachers, our goal should not simply be to teach students to be just literate enough to keep going to school. I also believe that “It’s an academic literacy to know your friends as readers and writers, to be comfortable talking with them about what they are writing about and their responses to the texts they are reading” (Bomer: 2011, 49). I think that one of the reasons young people today are so averse to reading is that their lives are increasingly social, communal and public, and reading is one of the few activities that is still relatively private and individual.

But while the act of reading is very individual (for the most part – don’t jump on me about poetry readings right now), participation in a literacy community is a way of making it social. And literacy communities are not simply university theory; they are real and people create their own all the time. LCs form everywhere people are reading – from more formalized ones like book clubs or websites dedicated to sharing books, to the simplicity of a family that has all read the same book and talking about it over dinner. My point is that I think students will be more interested in reading if they can see it having a more social context that exists outside the constructed universe of the classroom.

Some goals I have for literacy for my students are to:

  • Develop tools for analysis for all literary mediums and genres
  • See connections between different texts and mediums (intertextuality)
  • develop code recognition – understanding how reading and writing are affected by genre conventions, audience, etc.
  • expand our definitions of what a “text” is, and thereby the definition of “literacy”
  • See connections between media and their own lives

You might note that these are things that you can keep learning and developing as long as you are growing and developing as a reader (which it forever). This is good because if we are going to build a literacy community in the classroom, I need to be a part of it, not the boss of it, and that means I need room for learning too. Just as importantly, the students need to be aware of the fact that I am still developing as a reader.

So, the goals for the literacy community are to support students:

  • Develop their own tastes in reading
  • Identify preferences for reading conditions and practices
  • Developing skills for non-pleasure (academic) reading
  • Sharing and talking about what they do (and do not) like to read
  • Identifying themselves and one another as respected readers
  • Understanding that one can enjoy reading without enjoying all books

When thinking about both the readings and these goals and how to achieve them, there are two questions that keep coming to my mind: What is the line between encouraging students to explore new things and forcing things on them (related question – are there some people who really just don’t enjoy reading, and I need to leave them alone already?) And secondly (thinking about the importance of student choice in this whole process) how do we know when a student has given something new a fair chance and their evaluation is thoughtful, and when they haven’t? I don’t have answers to these questions but I will keep them in mind as I continue thinking about this.

I want to work on building literacy community in my classroom because I think reading for pleasure is an important and enriching lifelong habit that rarely finds room or encouragement in education. I have the good fortune of working at a school that has made the commitment to valuing and encouraging reading by dedicating one day out of every week of the Language Arts curriculum to independent reading. As it stands, however, we don’t do much with it. The students take Reading Counts tests and complaining about how boring it is. They spend most of their time worrying about how many “points” a book is worth, rather than thinking about what they like to read. I think this time can be much better used to help students develop all the skills and habits I have discussed above.

Rock it Saturday Style,



Hi my name is… January 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — bvanetten @ 8:53 pm

Hi. My name is Bonnie and I am interested in almost everything. I like books, and nail polish, and Martha Stewart. I firmly believe that Back to the Future is the best movie of all time, and  I grew up in LA and went to college in Chicago and now I live in Pittsburgh. I have a Masters degree in what can loosely be described as Pirate Studies, and I know more about History than is useful on a day-to-day basis. Now I’m almost grown up, and I’m about to be a teacher. I’m currently doing my student teaching and getting a second Masters at the University of Pittsburgh, so I spend most of my time and energy on teaching these days.

Rough Draft Thinking is what we would do and say if we thought no one was listening, or we were sure no one would judge us before we had a chance to think through our ideas. This almost never happens in real life, because we are trained to always be ready with final draft thinking. When we think we will be criticized or evaluated, sometimes we spend more time worrying about refining our speech and impressing others than we spend on the thought process. That’s why I’m calling this space Rough Draft Speech; it’s a place for thinking through problems and ideas without the threat of being held to early versions or conclusions. This is something I need while I am thinking about my ideas about teaching, and it is something I hope I can teach my students how to do in their own lives. That, and naming the blog “Dear Diary” seemed kindof weak.

Keep Calm and Rock on,