Monthly Archives: June 2016

More Reading Rules We Would Never Follow as Adults

I just read an amazing blog post by Pernille Ripp about the reading rules we impose on kids which we would never impose upon adults. I immediately asked her if I could write a sequel, and she has graciously invited me to do so.

Our goal as reading teachers can really be summed up in one phrase: to help create life-long readers. If we do that, we did our job. But, how many of us have consistently set arbitrary rules for our students that required them to do things which did not match this goal? I know I have. In her post, Pernille lists removing choice, forced reflection, competition, and several others. I’d like to add a few more.

Connecting Reading and Punishment – Reading and punishment should be as far away from each other as possible. Unfortunately, they are sometimes grouped together, and the damage can be devastating. A student who is in trouble might be told, “Instead of doing the fun activity, you have to sit here and the only thing you can do is read,” or “You didn’t fill out your reading log, so you have to make up that reading time at recess.” Will this make a child read more that day? Yes. But by associating reading and punishment, that child will read less in the future.

No Reading Ahead! – In what world do adult readers read the first three chapters of a fiction book and then stop for a few days until their group can meet to discuss? No. Nobody…not with fiction. Fiction book clubs attended by adults read the whole book and then meet. Instead, we get kids going in a book club or literature study group and then completely break their flow. Sometimes, they can’t ever get that flow back.


Denigrating T.V. and Movie Connections – We need books about SpongeBob, X-Men, and Disney movies in our classroom libraries, yet I hear some educators talk about how they don’t stock these because they are not “quality literature.” It’s usually true that the writing in these books is less than stellar, but this is not a reason to deem them unworthy for our classrooms. Adults often read a book because they saw the movie or vice versa. If we want kids to love reading, we should encourage all types of reading.

Assigned Library Days – This one is often impossible to avoid. Whether your school calls it “special class,” “related arts,” or something else, a weekly visit to the school library is often on the school’s master schedule. This doesn’t make sense; adults go to the library whenever they need to. Still in the middle of your book? We’re going anyway. Finish your book in two days? You’ll have to wait. Adults don’t visit the library like this. Our school libraries should be places where students can visit as needed.

Thanks again to Pernille Ripp for encouraging me to continue this discussion. It’s important for all of us to consistently reflect on what we are doing and the decisions we have made.


M.I.A. – The 150-Page Novel

As the subcommittee chair for our state’s children’s literature award for grades 4-6, I get a lot of free books. It’s a great perk! I get to see a lot of newly published books for kids (and add them to my classroom library!)

Here are two stacks of books I have received this year. I’ll let you guess how I’ve sorted them.

File_000 (41)

On the left, you can see all the children’s novel targeted toward 9-12 year-olds that have 200 or more pages. On the right are the novels below 200 pages. This visual representation supports a trend I have noticed in recent years: the 150-page novel is disappearing from the world of children’s literature.

Now, your first reaction is to bring up a great children’s novel you recently read that has under 200 pages, which I’m sure you can do (remember, we’re talking novels here – not picture books or graphic novels). You’ve probably got a great one in your mind. But can you name three more? That becomes much more difficult.

Why is this happening? I’m not an industry insider, but I can make some guesses:

  • Graphic novels are flying off the shelves. Maybe publishers think reluctant readers will only be reading graphic novels, so they are not publishing shorter chapter books for upper elementary.
  • More early reader chapter books are being published. Keep in mind, though, that these are often targeted to 7-8 year olds and have covers a sixth-graders wouldn’t be caught dead with.
  • Page sizes, font sizes, and line spacing are being altered to lengthen books. This is just a guess, but maybe a novel that would have been 180 pages is being lengthened purposely to 250 pages using these tools.

The consequences of the lack of short novels for elementary are becoming more pronounced and more serious each year. These issues have always been present and teachers have taught students strategies to deal with them for years, but I see them being magnified in recent years.

1. Poor-fit books – Students choose books they think they should be reading instead of books that are a good fit. Again, I know this has always taken places, but with more students whose comprehension is on-grade-level reading 300-page books, there is more pressure for developing readers to choose giant books from the library in order to fit in with their peers. This leads directly to problem #2…

2. Too much book abandonment – There’s a place for abandoning a book, and it’s a skill we can teach to students. However, proficient readers finish most of the books they start. Developing readers need to be taught this and see it has a goal. Unfortunately, the decline in short novels targeted toward elementary students means that these readers are trying to slug through the giant books they choose, usually not finishing, and teachers have fewer options to recommend.

3. Difficulty broadening reading experiences – Graphic novels are amazing. We’ve seen this formerly-ostracized format move into the mainstream, even picking up a Newbery Honor Award in January (El Deafo by Cece Bell). Graphic novels are also wonderful tools to help developing readers learn to love reading, while at the same time developing their literacy skills and strategies they need. However, as teachers, we want readers to have a broad range of reading experiences. We like telling students, “I noticed you been reading a lot of graphic novels in this genre. Here’s a chapter book you might enjoy, too.” With fewer short novels, there are simply fewer selections now available to readers who want to step outside their comfort zone and try something new.

4. Difficulty with certain reading strategies – Certain reading skills and strategies require a student to have read an entire text. It’s hard to summarize or determine the theme of an abandoned books. With so many extraordinarily long children’s books, students are losing opportunities to process and practice these strategies. Yes, picture books are a workaround (and often a good choice) to deal with this, but students need these experiences at the end of a book they read over multiple days as well. Book choices for this are dwindling.

None of these problems are insurmountable for a well-read, thoughtful reading teacher, but having more tools would help teachers handle their daily challenges.

I’ll end with a plea to authors and publishers: Upper elementary students need novels under 200 pages. If you publish them, we will buy them and read them!

20 Ideas for Student-Created Video

When I was in high school, my friends and I loved any opportunity to create a video for school. These were always large, culminating projects at the end of a major unit, often at the end of a novel study. We would spend a week filming and editing our project. We would create two or three videos a year.

Now, students can easily create two or three videos a day. It’s so easy for students to record videos of almost anything in a classroom and use it to document their learning. These can be quick reflections using a Chrome Extension like Screencastify or can be pushed further by using an app like WeVideo to edit together multiple clips.

File_001 (22)

Teachers should take advantage of the access students have for video production. Here are twenty possibilities for using video in the classroom:

  1. Book Reflections – Have students talk about their reading and thinking at the end of the week.
  2. Book Commercials – Students who finish a book and want to recommend it to others could create a quick commercial.
  3. Book Trailer – Students collect images for a trailer, edit them together, and provide the voice-over narration.
  4. Fluency – Take a fluency assessment via video.
  5. Fluency Improvement – Have students record their first reading and final reading of a passage throughout a week of instruction to see their growth.
  6. Parent Communication for Reading – Parents often underestimate or overestimate their child’s reading ability. Have students read a grade-level passage and share the video with parents.
  7. Evidence of Revision – Students could provide narration for a screencast of a Google Document. Using Revision History, they could discuss the improvement they made to their writing.
  8. Writing Exit Slip – Ask students to make a quick video showing how they used the day’s mini-lesson to improve their writing.
  9. How-To Math Videos – Students could record their explanations of math processes, clearly letting the teacher know if they understand.
  10. Math Exit Slip – Pose a question based on the math lesson and have students do a screencast as a response.
  11. Science Experiment Documentation – Have students record trials during a science experiment.
  12. Hypothesis vs. Conclusion – After a science experiment, ask students to reflect on what they learned, referencing their original hypothesis.
  13. Further Thoughts – In every subject, there are often interesting discussions. However, some students are always hesitant to raise their hands to participate. Ask students to record their thoughts at the end of the discussion to ensure 100% participation.
  14. A Day in the Life – Parents love to know what their children are doing. Have students create and edit a video of what they do during the day.
  15. Project Check-in – Keep tabs on students’ progress on major projects by having them submit a video showing their progress.
  16. Time-Lapse – Use video to show change over time. This would make a neat end-of-year project about a topic like seasons.
  17. Field Trip – Have students create a video reflecting on what they learned on a field trip.
  18. All About Me – Let students create a video early in the year as a way to introduce themselves.
  19. Questions – Provide a way for students to use video to ask you questions they might not be brave enough to ask in person.
  20. EL Support – Help EL students see their growth using video throughout the year.

Don’t worry, I haven’t actually even done half of these ideas…yet. However, a tool like video has endless applications, and it is important to imagine the possibilities. Do you have other favorite ways to use videos in the classroom? Or maybe you have ideas you have just dreamed up today? Please share them in the comments.