Monthly Archives: June 2015

10 Authentic Reading Behaviors We Should Be Teaching

If we want our students to grow into lifelong readers, we need to focus on helping them develop authentic reading behaviors, the same behaviors adult readers do. These are real. They are not behaviors we do for school; they are what real readers do.


Much of my thinking here has been developing as I have been participating in a summer book club with some of my colleagues. We have been reading Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer with this great group. Many of Miller’s ideas connect to this idea of authentic reading experiences, so some of these ideas come from her book with my own thinking added. Here are ten things adult readers do that we should explicitly teach to our students.

1. Use a bookmark. – Kids who don’t see adults using bookmarks don’t see their value. Some kids need to hear us explain how they are used.

2. Give reading recommendations. – Adults who read a good book tell other adults about that book. When a student finishes a book, one of my favorite questions to ask is, “Who else in the room might like this book?”

3. Accept reading recommendations. – As important as giving recommendations is being open to them, even if it’s a genre which isn’t a favorite.

4. Keep a record of books we’ve read. – Some adults keep notebooks of these, and even more use websites. This list can be an important source to help teachers know their students as readers.

5. Talk about books. – This should be done in all classrooms every day. It increases the excitement around reading and helps students process and remember what they have read.

6. Mark their thinking in texts they will be discussing. – Recording thoughts, feelings, and questions in preparation for a book club is what adults do. We should teach kids the reasons behind these types of requirements.

7. Stop marking their thinking when it is unnecessary. – Nothing kills independent reading more than requiring kids to complete five sticky notes destined to go straight to the recycle bin. This is a waste of valuable reading time.

8. Be excited for release dates. – Real readers count the number of days until the next book by their favorite author is due on store shelves. We can connect with students as we await the same new titles.

9. Use a computer to search for books. – While adults sometimes go to the bookstore or library just to browse and choose, most of the time we know the book we want before we get there. Modeling this for kids will make school library trips more meaningful.

10. Write book reviews…sometimes. – Most fervent readers have reviewed a book on Goodreads, Amazon, or their own blog. No fervent readers have reviewed every book they’ve ever read. We should help students find this balance.

Thanks again to Donalyn Miller and her wonderful book for inspiring this blog post.


Three Books That Deserve More Hype

While I’m sure some are talking about these books, I think they deserve even more hype. They have made my summer reading a treat! All three are quite different, although I would suggest them for the same age range: 4th-8th grade.  They would be excellent additions to your classroom library.


1. The Inventor’s Secret (Cragbridge Hall #1) – by Chad Morris

Time travel books often follow the same predictable plot, rarely bringing anything new for readers. This book is a triumphant exception to this pattern. Chad Morris’ first book in the Cragbridge Hall trilogy (all three are now available) brings the reader into the year 2074, where an invention called “The Bridge” can bring the past into today’s classrooms. But can people reverse this and head back into the past themselves? And if so, what are the consequences? The two protagonists, Abby and Derek, have to deal with this possibility and figure out how to keep this technology out of the wrong hands. Students who enjoyed Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or other fantasy series will latch on to this book.


2. The Thickety: A Path Begins – by J.A. White

If writing time travel books is difficult to do well, writing something truly scary is almost impossible. Doing so in a children’s book? Unheard of. In The Thickety: A Path Begins, J.A. White creates an isolated dystopian town where Kara, daughter of a convicted witch, struggles to escape her past. While this sounds like a typical storyline, this book’s appeal comes from Grace, Kara’s rival, a girl who seems sweet but is truly evil. The scenes with Kara and Grace begin as intense and end as terrifying. Students who are looking to branch out from Goosebumps or other scary stories would love this book.


3. The Life and Times of Benny Alvarez – by Peter Johnson

You might guess this book focuses on Benny, a twelve-year-old boy who loves exploring new words and phrases. You’re right, but it’s the secondary characters that drive this book. Benny’s dad loves scaring Benny’s friends in hilarious ways. Benny’s older sister Irene, unlike the typical older sister character, truly loves her brother and shows it. Claudine, the smart girl in class, has a vulnerable side and always keeps the reader wondering. Benny’s buddies, his brother Crash, the “hot” teacher, and Irene’s unusual boyfriend make each scene in this book entertaining and real. A great book for boys who have become interested in girls (or want to be), Peter Johnson’s book definitely belongs in your classroom library.

Enjoy these suggestions! Let me know what you think!

Five GMail Tricks I Enjoy

If you’re a Gmail wizard, these might not be new to you, but some of my colleagues showed me some cool features hidden in Gmail. I hope there’s one here you can use.

1. Default to Full-Screen For New Emails

Some people love having their new emails in the lower right-hand corner. Others want to see it full screen. You do not have to expand an email every time after you set full screen as your default. Just click the triangle in the lower right of your email you are composing and select “Default to full screen.”


2. Sorting Out Social Website Emails and Promotional Emails

If you don’t like emails from Facebook and emails about 50% off sales cluttering your inbox, you can have Gmail sort these out for you. Just click the settings gear (I’ve heard it called a cog, but it looks like a gear) in the upper right of the screen. Then click “Configure Inbox” and set it up how you like.


3. Advanced Search Tools

I no longer file any emails. I know this is blasphemy for some of you, but the searching on Gmail is just too easy. If your basic search doesn’t get you want you want, you can click the triangle at the end of the search bar to refine your search in too many ways to describe.


4. Creating a Filter Based on Your Search

If you use the advancing searching abilities, you might be interested in creating a filter based on your results. Maybe you want all messages from your wife to be marked as important. Maybe you want every email with the word “anchovies” in it to be deleted. The possibilities are endless. Once you are in the search box drop-down menu described in #3, type in what you are searching for, and then click “Create filter with this search.” Then, design your filter as you wish.


5. Labs!

Labs are awesome. You can add these fantastic features to your inbox. Included in my labs menu was a place to undo sending a message, a way to move the chat over the the right side, and a widget that added my Google Calendar to my inbox. Very cool and fun to explore!


Good luck customizing your inbox!

A Must for Upper-Elementary Classrooms

If I was giving a new upper elementary teacher one piece of advice unique to these grade levels, I wouldn’t have to think hard. As a fourth grade teacher, this applies to fifth grade as well, and probably third and sixth. I would suggest this: all upper elementary students need to have picture books at their fingertips.

These books need to always be readily available. I’m not talking about just having a basket of tattered favorites in the classroom library or leveled bins at a fluency station. While those can be helpful too, students need to have picture books instantly available at their seats. It’s a bonus if the students have self-selected these books.


Why is this so imperative in the upper elementary grades? Consider these three points:

1. Requiring everyone to have picture books eliminates negative stigmas. – No matter how much time and effort we spend building a thoughtful, caring community and confident, self-assured students, children at this age are beginning to care what their peers think. I did too when I was their age. So did you. Despite the fact we know otherwise, many students continue to view picture books as childish, and they don’t want to be viewed as needing to read “baby books.” We can talk and talk about book selection, our individual differences, and how much we, as teachers, love pictures books, but I have found the “baby book” stigma to be invincible. However, if everyone has picture books at their desks, then picture books become part of our normal reading lives. Everyone is doing it, so nobody worries. Most importantly, the kids who need to be reading those books to help themselves grow as readers are able to do so without fear.


2. Picture books are perfect for practicing many reading strategies. Imagine you have just taught an amazing lesson examining character change. You’ve modeled for students how to think about character change and why it is important to notice. You feel the kids are getting it, but you want to see them practice without your help. Can you send them to read the next chapter in their chapter book and then discuss character change? Not really. Character change happens over the entirety of a book. But, can you send them to read a picture book independently or with a partner and report back on what they noticed? Absolutely. Picture books can be used to support almost any lesson, including character change, synthesizing, making inferences, determining the effect of the setting or characters on the plot, comparing and contrasting stories, and countless others.


3. Kids love them! They might be reluctant to say it out loud (see #1), but kids truly love picture books. When my students visit the library, two of their choices must be picture books, and these are often the books I see being read first when we return from the classroom. Helping kids enjoy reading should be one of our top goals, and this is a perfect way to foster a love of books.

If you’re new to upper elementary or know someone who is, I encourage you to make sure all students at this critical age in their reading lives have access to picture books. It will make a difference.