Classroom Libraries: What’s in there and why?

 

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Some of our nonfiction collection.

How Do We Decide What Goes In Our Classroom Libraries?

My classroom library is a vital part of the classroom culture.  I spend as much time and thought curating my library as I do setting up my room and planning units. I know that a classroom library can inspire imagination and ignite reading lives but it can also deter readers and dampen enthusiasm. Making sure that our classroom library is a place kids want to spend time is crucial. Here are some of the ways I inform the selection of books on hand for my fourth graders:

  • I focus heavily on series and authors. Experience has taught me that if a reader, especially a reluctant reader, can get into one book in one series, they’ll continue reading and actually benefit from the support of the structure and familiarity of the series. Automatic scaffolding. Win-Win!

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    Stand of series and author collections
  • I consider genre, making sure I have a balance of fiction and nonfiction and a good variety of each.
  • I keep track of what’s hot. Right now fantasy and sci-fi are in with both boys and girls. Fairies used to be a female favorite but now they are so three years ago. I hadn’t seen much interest in straight-up adventure (no magic or post-apocalyptic civilizations) in the past few years but see that it is starting to make a comeback.
  • I consider hot topics for nonfiction. Cars, soccer (European), jewelry-making and ancient civilizations are big right now. The usual animals also have a strong showing.
  • I consider my curriculum and am always on the
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    Unit-related collections. Some stay out all year, some are introduced later in the year and some are put away after a period of time.

     lookout for titles that support my units AND are appropriate for my readers. That last bit can be tricky.

  • I troll teacher blogs and book lists more than I troll facebook. Donalynn Miller  is one of my biggest influences when it comes to how I organize my reader’s workshop and of course, my library. (I highly recommend that teachers who are interested in selecting books and organizing for engaging and effective reading instruction check out what Donnalynn has to say.)
  • I find out what other teacher’s kids are into.
  • I ask my students. This is likely the most powerful method I have for selecting engaging, relevant books that my readers will want to actually read. Being in touch with what the kids will actually read is the most important thing. No matter how many awards a book has received, no matter what the education field or curriculum documents say is quality reading for my fourth graders, a book that sits on a shelf doesn’t help any reader. A book that a child is dragged through can do more harm than good.
    • At the start of the year, I ask them what books they think their classmates must read. I use google forms and compile lists of recommendations. This autumn, kids asked for: Warrior Cats, Dork Diaries, Land of Stories, Pegasus, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Norm, Tom Gates, Horrible Histories and books by David Walliams, to name a few.
    • When we have book fairs, I ask kids to make a list of recommendations from the displays for our classroom library. When I worked in schools that didn’t have book fairs, I gave kids scholastic catalogs and asked them to make wish lists. Even in inner city NY, money could be found to purchase a selection of those lists and honor the student’s selections.
    • At the end of the year, I ask again, this time for them to tell me what I must have on hand for the incoming class that August. The graduating fourth graders are more than happy to keep me hip to the trends.
    • I pay attention during reader’s workshop, noticing which titles are being fought over and which topics are being discussed.
    • I watch how my students organize the library. They are welcome to change the organization and their choices often let me know what’s important and interesting to them.
    • I’ve found the local bookstore that also has an impressive English language kids’ section. It’s not Barnes and Nobles but it’s a close second.
    • I wander into other classrooms and see what they have that we don’t.

One thing I don’t have to worry about too much is funding. We have a very generous budget that allows not only for updating our libraries regularly but also for doing so in a timely manner. In other words, when three of my reluctant readers got into the Alfie the Werewolf series last year and they were fighting over the few copies in the lower school library, I could go to Amazon and stock them in our class library while the demand was still hot. Three boys who spent two-thirds of the year bored by books were engrossed for the final three months of school in all things Alfie.

How Do You Decide?

I’d love to know how other teachers find books and make decisions on what to put in their libraries. What series, genre and topics are hot with your kids? What websites are great for finding lists and updates?

Happy reading!

 

 

Extending PLC’s As International Educators

In the international school community, there are many opportunities for professional development. Big international schools like mine generally hire experienced and highly trained faculty, giving educators a powerful PLC (professional learning community) to begin with. They also tend to have generous professional development budgets which enable their teachers to learn from a variety of courses and conferences. A teacher in such an organization has many options if they want to continue to develop.

Of course, with these opportunities come challenges in any educator’s development, which could vary depending on the individual circumstances as well as the school. Ken Blanchard describes four stages that a professional might be in at any given time of their career, depending on the situation, as shown in the graphic below.

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Blanchard holds that personal and professional circumstances/experiences affect the level of competence and commitment one might have in any given situation in their career. For educators, PLC’s are a great way to inspire and support strong commitment as well as increasing competence.

Reflecting on my own development, I realize that experienced educators who spend an extended time in one organization may move from D4 to D3 if they don’t reach out beyond the bubble of their own organization. It could be that things are going really well, and it would be easy to leave a well-oiled machine alone. Except that even well-oiled machines can be outperformed by newer models and upgrades. If things are going really well with the status quo, then this is an indication to branch out and take things to the next level; not to mention the fact that international educators should strive to be globally informed! There is a powerful argument for educators to reach out to find the PLC or PLC’s that will help them best develop!

Over the past two years, one of my goals was to extend my PLC in the hopes of learning as much as possible about how teachers in PYP schools are approaching literacy instruction. In this endeavor, I’ve had the opportunity to engage in a multitude of  face to face as well as virtual conversations, and I’ve been exposed to a  plethora of resources. I have learned so much, not only about literacy and the PYP, but about education in general, and I am filled with tons of questions to move forward with.

Many of my current and future blogs have been and will be informed by, inspired by, and a product of my collaboration with my PLC’s old and new. Here are some of the communities and resources that have, and continue to inspire me and help me grow as a professional:

When the Workshop Method and Inquiry Meet

Conceptual Understandings Meet The Work of A Reader/Writer:

I’ve been asked how my persuasive language study fits in with the PYP. The answer to that is not necessarily a quick one, as I believe that the PYP and workshop have so many parallels. The philosophies match, and the preferred methods compliment each other. For my persuasive language study, as with any language study, the conceptual understandings lie in what it actually means to communicate via a certain medium for a given purpose.

There are two things all readers and writers must keep in mind if they want to communicate successfully: purpose, and effectiveness in achieving that purpose. When looking at the craft of writing through a conceptual lens, the big question really is about purpose. Why do writers write? Any time we write, we have a reason for doing so. Most likely, we also have an intended audience. Understanding purpose is the key to developing an ability to use written language effectively. Not to mention an understanding of why we use it in the first place. Once a given purpose is understood, a writer can explore how they can most effectively achieve their purpose.

Similarly, for a reader, the first thing that must be understood is purpose. Why are we reading? What do we hope to get out of it? From there, how are we going to most effectively achieve that goal? As a reader becomes able to recognize the specific purpose for which he or she is reading at any given time, then they will be able to explore and employ strategies to help them most effectively suit that purpose.

This leads us to central ideas for understanding and the lines of inquiry that can help support a reader or writer as they develop.

In a workshop unit of study, we assess what our students need to know around a given genre or purpose and develop the scope and sequence of our lessons accordingly. As the workshop unfolds, we name the teaching and learning goals explicitly for the students as a part of our mini-lessons and conferences. In a PYP unit of study, we do this as well, by sharing and discussing the central ideas and lines of inquiry (as bullet points) for each unit. Below is a version of how I planned out my persuasive language unit through a PYP lens. In this case, I used the central ideas and lines of inquiry to anchor my units and wove the language of the statements throughout the lessons.

Central Idea For Overall Language: People use persuasive language in order to convince others or persuade them to do something.

Central idea for readers/listeners: Readers (and listeners) know that persuasive writing is written from a specific point of view, and they use strategies to help them best understand what that is.

  • Reading or listening closely helps us to get to the heart of what the writer/speaker is saying.
  • Readers/listeners consider their own experiences and points of view when thinking about a persuasive text.
  • Readers/listeners react to an argument by considering all points of view.

Central idea for writers/speakers: Writers (and speakers) use persuasive language when they want to convince their audience. There are strategies that a writer or speaker can use to make strong arguments.

  • People write or speak persuasively when they feel strongly about something.
  • Having specific reasons to back up an idea makes an argument strong.
  • Reasoning with evidence makes an argument more powerful.

We focused on perspective and reflection, which, in this case, lined up with the key concepts being targeted in our unit of inquiry. This gave the students some nice opportunities to make connections across disciplines.

As we navigated these ideas together during the reading and writing workshops, students were able to build their understanding of why people use persuasive language, and how they could be most effective in doing so. The mini-lessons, group work and conferences reinforced these concepts as needed, and focused on strategies and skills that readers and writers use when working with persuasive language. These mini-lessons were taught using the workshop approach and students were able to inquire into how they could use these strategies in their own reading and writing lives as the opportunities to do so unfolded.

Becoming Close and Critical Readers of Persuasive Texts

Two weeks ago, my fourth graders began an inquiry into the use of persuasive language in our reading workshop. This, of course, as a part of our unit of inquiry into “how we organize ourselves.” Armed with three essential questions for reading or listening to persuasive language closely and critically, we’ve explored print ads, commercials, picture books with persuasive characters, news articles, book reviews and editorials.

The world is filled with persuasive language, and curating a collection which models this type of language in the form of texts and videos is a challenge. One must consider the prior experiences of the students, their reading abilities, and their interests; not to mention teaching and learning goals. I set off preparing for this unit with the goal of having a collection of persuasive language that was large enough and broad enough to meet the needs and interests of my diverse class.

Commercials:

Our first entry into the world of persuasion was with t.v. commercials. I set up a youtube account with a collection of age-appropriate commercials that advertised products in different areas around the world. You can read more about these and the first phase of this unit in my last blog post.

Print Advertisements:

In order to find a selection of print advertisements, I started from scratch. I googled “print advertisements.” This was more successful than I anticipated, but I quickly found that I could search “best print ads of 2015,” and “best international advertisements.” These led me on a path to dozens of fourth-grade appropriate, culturally diverse advertisements. I purposefully chose a selection of ads which had a variety of purposes, ranging from selling goods, to don’t text and drive, to campaigning for the environment. We started off together, analyzing a print advertisement advocating for the ocean environment.

I chose this advertisement as our shared piece for several reasons. First, it was published in quite a few languages-same advertisement, different language. While we discussed the English version of the advertisement, native speakers of Spanish, Italian and Korean were also able to explore it in their mother tongue. Second, there were multiple messages in this advertisement, ranging in complexity. This would allow the students who needed more practice with identifying the purpose a point of entry, while allowing for more deeper exploration for those students ready for a challenge. I noticed more students were participating in the analysis than in previous days, using the three questions. Still, some found this type of thinking to be overwhelming and needed more support-my first strategy group for this unit! After our shared practice, students were sent off with the choice to look at other print ads in the collection I’d created, or going back to look at more commercials on our youtube channel.

Stories With Characters Using Persuasive Arguments:

This was the easiest preparation for me. I already had a collection of picture books from previous years. Some of my favorite titles include: Hey, Little Ant, by Phillip M. Hoose, My Brother Dan’s Delicious, by Steven L. Layne, Earrings, by Judith Viorst, Can I Keep Him?, by Steven Kellogg, and the I Wanna books, by Karen Kaufman Orloff. The kids love all of these books and they serve as powerful mentor texts down the line in writer’s workshop. If you know of other great mentor texts, please let me know!

News Articles/Editorials/Blogs:

My students have already been exposed to book blogs and book reviews from our “Readerly Life” unit. I used a review from this mother and son blog, giving students more exposure to how we use persuasive language, but also letting them see the role of multiple perspectives. I found a bunch of editorials, articles and reviews, mostly by luck and perseverance on the internet. I also trolled Newsela, and made a collection of opinion articles for kids. This is where I got the bulk of my articles. If you don’t know Newsela, I highly recommend you check it out. It’s a free source for news articles for students of all ages. It’s a very user-friendly, searchable site and you can create digital collections online, saving the articles you want to use for a given purpose. The articles are available on multiple reading “levels” so that students can find a just right version to read. There are even more perks to this site, but I haven’t used it to it’s fullest potential yet. (How am I doing with my use of persuasive language in this section?)

I printed out copies of every article I used. My students have access to the websites, but during reader’s workshop I prefer that they can interact with the print, old-school style. I’m not yet convinced that reading online supports close or critical reading, and I like that students can mark up the texts. I’m open to discussion on this, so go ahead and do your best to persuade me otherwise;-).

So, another week has passed, and my readers are becoming increasingly close readers of, and listeners to, persuasive texts. Through mini-lessons and guided practice, they have learned to determine the author or speaker’s purpose, how to identify and consider the reasons the author or speaker gives, and to use their own experiences, knowledge and understandings to think critically about the author or speaker’s perspective or goal.

On Monday, we launch our focus on persuasive language in our writer’s workshop!

Integrating A Persuasive Language Study Into A PYP Unit of Inquiry

Working at a PYP school, there is often discussion around how we can incorporate quality literacy teaching and learning into a program of inquiry. Here is an example of how this can be done by using the unit of inquiry and key concepts as a base, and “workshop” style mini-lessons and engagements as a vehicle for students to develop their skills and understanding.

At the end of an inspiring two days with Georgia Heard and Kathy Collins last month, we were asked to reflect on our take-aways. Long-term, mid-term and immediate-I had so many ideas vying to be my main focus, but Kathy Collins’ session on close reading was right on time for the unit I was starting with my fourth graders that Monday.

As a part of our “How We Organize Ourselves” unit, we explore the marketplace. Our language integration for this unit focuses on persuasive speech and texts. The unit has moved this year, and now occupies a comfortable six weeks, split up by our February break. In the past, it would get crammed in right before the Christmas break, vying with holiday festivities, special events, and waning attention spans; along with all of the other “loose ends” that we wanted to tie up before a three week break. The time now allocated to this unit has it brimming with possibilities. There is more time for students to pursue their own inquiries into the marketplace, as well as for some in-depth exploration of language within and beyond the context of the unit. Students can be afforded compelling opportunities to become critical readers of (or listeners to) persuasive and argument language; as well as skilled users of this genre when their writing or speaking goal is to persuade or convince others.

We’ve always looked at different forms of advertising during this unit, and we extend the literacy integration to include persuasive essays and stories. This usually begins with an exploration of advertising gimmicks, such as slogans, logos, smart facts, spokespeople, etc. Students learn about these gimmicks and then use them to advertise their own products and services, which they work on developing and preparing to sell at our grade 4 marketplace. We then usually continue building on our understanding of persuasive language, by examining author/creator’s purpose, and craft moves for persuasive essay writing. We would read persuasive texts together, but there was never much time for a reading unit. This has always been frustrating for me, as there are so many amazing links to the skills habits our readers need to develop, but there was never any time. Until this year…

Coming up to this unit, I knew that my students needed to work on their critical reading skills, and to recognize the need to develop their own ideas about what an author is saying. While persuasive texts are not the only ones requiring these skills, they do provide a very concrete point of entry for fourth graders to develop the skills and dispositions to read/listen to what is being communicated closely, consider it critically, and make determinations based on their own experiences, knowledge and feelings related to the text.

Planning ahead, I developed three questions for students to use as they practiced close reading of/listening to persuasive language:

  • What is the author/creator trying to convince me of or persuade me to do?
  • What strategies is the author/creator using to persuade/convince me?
  • What are my thoughts, connections, questions and reactions to this?

Modelling and then releasing responsibility:

Students began using these three prompts as they watched television commercials on youtube. I first modelled “close watching” using a commercial from my childhood, for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. I pointed out the jingle (I know I’m not the only person out there who can sing the “Tony the Tiger” song by heart). I noted the use of healthy, active children, playing sports and showing off their energy. I talked about Tony, the spokes-tiger. I then modelled reflecting on what the advertisement was telling me, and what it was trying to get me to do. At this point, students were catching on and joining in, thinking along. We captured our ideas on the chart below and then I sent them off with a pre-selected collection of commercials from around the world, to practice this very same thinking. 

Close Listening to Commercial
Some of our thoughts in response to the Frosted Flakes commercial.

As the students practiced close listening, I noticed that many were easily picking out the purpose of the commercials, as well as some of the more obvious advertising gimmicks, but many students found it more challenging to discuss their own ideas/reactions to the commercials.

The next day, we engaged in a similar engagement with a print advertisement. This was definitely more shared reading than modelling. As the students became more comfortable with the type of thinking we were practicing, they took on more responsibility.

As our unit unfolds, students are able to revisit the collection of commercials and print ads that I had curated for them during the readers workshop, as well as explore other persuasive, and non-persuasive texts. I will continue to look for ways to support them as they develop their understanding of persuasive language, how it is used, and how they can be critical consumers when they are on the receiving end. Very soon, we will start looking at all of these ideas as writers and creators of persuasive texts and language.