Hunting for Treasure

"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island."–Walt Disney

The Power of book boosts… April 2, 2010

If you teach middle school aged kids, then you know that the greatest motivator for them is their peers.  If I didn’t know that before, I certainly know it after incorporating book boosts into my daily routine.
Back in September, one of the first books I boosted was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  After my boost, I thought for sure I would have kids checking out my  two copies of the book.  But guess what?  Not a single kid wanted to check it out!  I couldn’t believe it!  This book was so popular the world around, but apparently not in my class.  Over the next few months, I recommended it to kids seeking advice for a new book to read, but to no avail.  I couldn’t get anyone interested!
Finally, in February, I noticed one of my boys pull The Hunger Games off the shelf and check it out.  He began reading, and zoomed through the fast-paced novel in three days.  Upon finishing it, he signed up for a book boost and shared it with the class.  Well, I suppose you can predict the effect of that book boost…within a day I had a waitlist for the book!  I had to go out and buy a couple more copies just to so I could stop hearing, “How much longer until I can check out The Hunger Games?”  from my class.  Patience is not in my students’ vocabulary when it comes to waiting for a good book!
My experience with The Hunger Games reminded me that even the best books need a little boosting, and the most qualified to do it are the kids.  The most popular books in my class library are the ones that the students recommend to one another.  Because of this, I reserve about five minutes each day for boosting books.  Those five minutes are invaluable to me.
By the way, I now have a waiting list for Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games!  The third book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, arrives in August 2010!

Tuck Everlasting and literary elements-post-reading activity March 30, 2010

One of the novels we read as a whole class this year was Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.  This is such a beautifully written novel.  It is a wonderful book to use for teaching theme, foreshadowing and conflict.  It’s also an excellent example of how an author effectively uses figurative language.

As a post-reading activity, I placed the class into small groups of 3, and gave each group a different literary element to represent through a poster.  The groups used their chapter summary maps (something I discovered in a Fountas and Pinnell book, Guiding Readers and Writers) to help them, as well as their notes on the literary elements.  After they were finished with their posters, each group presented to the class.

This was one of those impromptu activities that popped into my mind, and it turned out to be a great success.  It was simple, but worthwhile. It was a good way to review the story, and what I really liked about it was that my students had to refer to the notes they had been taking throughout the reading to complete the assignment.  I don’t know if anyone else has this problem, but my students are still learning how to use their resources, so the requirement of having to go back and use their notes was good reinforcement for them.  As I was rotating to visit with groups, I was impressed with their dialogue with regard to the novel and their assigned literary element.  I was able to gauge who understood and who was struggling.  I will definitely use this as a post-reading activity again!  Maybe I will change it up by offering the groups an option to present in another format besides a poster, such as a skit or a poem.

Click on the link below to see a few of the finished products that made it home with me over the weekend!


Historical Fiction-top picks in my class March 14, 2010

This quarter, as part of my students’ independent reading assignments, they are expected to read at least one book from the historical fiction genre.  At first, this news was met with many groans and complaints.  But with a few book boosts from our school librarian and myself, my kids were able to discover that maybe historical fiction isn’t so bad.  Here are a few of the most popular titles I’ve seen kids reading:

* The Dear America/My Name is America Series by Scholastic
series of historical fiction.  Just about every kid in my class has found at least one title in this series that’s piqued their interest.  Here are the titles from the series I’ve seen kids reading

*Where Have all the Flowers Gone?  The Diary of Molly McKenzie Flaherty

*The Journal of Jesse Smoke, A Cherokee Boy, The Trail of Tears, 1838

*The Journal of Patrick Seamus Flaherty, United States Marine Corps, Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1968

* So Far From Home, The Diary of Mary Driscoll, An Irish Mill Girl, 1847

Other popular titles being read include:

*The Art of Keeping Cool by Janet Taylor Lisle

* Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf

* Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

*Sunrise Over Fallujah and Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

* The Secret School by Avi

* The Captain’s Dog:  My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Elephant Run by Roland Smith

* Incantation by Alice Hoffman

* Washington City is Burning by Harriette Gillem Robinette

* Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

*Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

* The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

* Shackleton’s Stowaway by Victoria McKernan

I don’t have a huge selection of historical fiction in my class, so requiring the students to read from this genre was an extra push to get them into our school library.   I’m happy that I chose historical fiction as an expectation this quarter.  The students discovered that there are THOUSANDS of titles to choose from, and that historical fiction doesn’t just have to be about war.  As a result, I’ve seen kids opting for historical fiction as one of their three free choice book selections!


Focusing on the “I’d rather…” readers December 15, 2009

In Janet Allen’s book Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12, she uses the term “I’d rather” readers to describe the kids in our classes who score proficient on reading tests and are good readers, but would much rather be engaging in other activities besides reading.  The past month I’ve really been focusing my efforts on my I’d rather readers.  Reflecting on them and similiar readers I’ve had in the past, I’ve noticed that they all have two common characteristics.  First, they’re all boys.  The second is that they all see the value in being “efficient”.  They are not lazy or careless in their studies, they are just focused on meeting goals in the most efficient way possible.  Somehow, reading does not seem to fit into their “efficiency” equation. 

During parent conferences last month, I had an in-depth conversation with the mother of one of these boys.  She  expressed a desire to see her son read more at home.  She told me that it is a nightly battle to get him to read.  During our conversation, I could sense her frustration.  The next week, her son and I sat down to have a post-reading conference on the book The Lightning Thief, which was recommended to him by a friend.   He was so excited to share about this book.  He was able to tell me, in vivid detail, about the characters, conflict and themes.  He was able to explain why he would recommend this book to others.  He was so fired up about it, and couldn’t wait to start The Sea of Monsters, the second book in the series.

After that conference, I began to notice a change in him as a reader.  During Independent Reading, he was actually reading.  Sometimes during English, I would catch him with the book under his desk trying to sneak in a few words here and there when he thought I wasn’t looking.  He became more in tune to our class novel, The Cay.  He would engage in more conversation about the class book, asking questions, predicting and putting in his two cents about his thoughts on the novel.  I even caught him sticking around on his break to peruse our class library! 

This week I plan on calling his mom to see if she’s seen a change at home.  Based on a couple of comments he’s made at school, I suspect it may still be somewhat of a battle on the homefront, but I am looking forward to reporting the changes I’m seeing at school.  I think she’ll be pleased.

Had I continued to teach reading the way I have over the past three years, this student would have continued to be an “I’d rather” reader this year.  I am confident that the decision to include more independent reading time and book sharing, as well as  focusing on matching books to readers made a difference with this kid.  The changes I’ve made in my class culture have provided an avenue for me to catch the kids passing through that may be good readers, but don’t think reading is good.  I caught this one, and I’m hoping to catch more!


exhausted but excited—parent conferences a SUCCESS! November 5, 2009

thumbs upIt’s 7:30, and I just got home from night two of parent conferences.  My team partner and I had about 60% of our kids represented….that’s terrific for middle school!  As exhausted as I am, I’m also excited about how well conferences went.  My efforts on teaching my kids how to choose books for themsleves, as well as my focus on matching books to kids has been working!  I had a number of parents comment on how they’ve noticed changes in their child’s attitude about reading.  They’ve noticed more reading at home and requests for purchasing specific titles.  I was so happy to get this news, and motivated to continue on the path I’ve been on.  I still have a few nuts to crack, but tonight I received a lot of feedback from parents on possible ways to do the “cracking”!  I also plan  to reread the advice Janet Allen gives about the “I’d rather” and “I don’t care” readers in Yellow Brick Roads:  Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12.  It is my goal to guide my “I’d rather” and “I don’t care” readers into a love for reading.  It can be done!


Update on reading logs. November 2, 2009

Filed under: Reading — jenucdavis @ 8:00 pm
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books with stars

It’s been a few days since I blogged…..I’ve had the end of quarter blues!  I’m sure you can empathize!  But, I managed to get all of my grades entered last night, so it’s all good.  Now on to quarter two!

A couple of weeks ago I blogged on my frustration with reading logs.  My goal was to have an alternative to reading logs by 2nd quarter, and I think I’ve found one.  I’ve decided to try a reading contract of sorts.  I have set certain goals the students have to reach in order to receive an A, B, C etc. for their Independent Reading grade.  So, for example, if they want to earn an A for their IR grade, they must read a total of five books (at least 150 pages long) for the quarter.  To earn a B, students must read at least 4 books, for a C, three books, etc.  I really struggled with whether or not I should attach a grade to the book requirement, but they earned grades for the reading logs, and I just felt like at this point I wanted to have a grade attached to it.  I also felt like five books for an A was setting the bar low, but since this is my first time trying it, I’m going to start with that baseline and go from there.  My ultimate goal is to have the kids decide how many books they will read each quarter.  The student choice piece is important to me, but at this point, I feel like the kids need some guidance.  When I told the kids about this change last week, they seemed much more enthused with this method over logs, mostly because they realized they would no longer have to worry about parent signatures and recording page numbers!  In addition to that, they could only count miuntes read outside of school with the reading log, so the kids were excited that the books they read during class would count. 

So, how am I going to keep up with this?  Monitoring is a weakness of mine, so I really had to have a plan in my mind.   I usually complete conferences with kids each week, and when I do that, I always write down the book title and page number they’re on.  I’ve also given the students a list of options of post-reading activities to choose from when they complete each book.  For each finished book, they must choose one of the options to complete. 

As I wrote earlier, my hope is that after this quarter, the kids will see how easy it is for them to read five books in nine weeks, and that they will be able to set their own goals next quarter (with my guidance of course!).  My students and I had an interesting discussion of how important it would be to pick “just right” books if they wanted to achieve an A  for their IR grade.  One of my students noted that if you chose all challenge books, it would take you longer to read because the books would be too hard.  Her advice to the class was to make sure that they use the five finger method  to help them choose “just right” books.  Everyone agreed that if they were choosing  just right books, they’d be able to earn an A for their IR grade.  I was happy to hear them make that connection!

I will keep you updated on how this is working…..




Raising bookworms October 27, 2009

Filed under: Reading — jenucdavis @ 4:34 pm

book wormToday I had one of the best experiences I’ve had since I started teaching 6th grade.  This morning I took my reading class on an impromptu trip to the library.  Before we went, I told them they could bring their book with them to read or they could use the last minute opportunity to browse the stacks and check-out books.  Now, typically what happens with my 6th graders is we’ll go to the library, and everyone races to the section of the stacks where the Guiness Book of World Records books are located.  Then they begin to argue over who’s going to get to look at the Guiness Books this time, and the kids who don’t make the cut go find a place to do the “fake read”, which I’m sure we’ve all observed at some point in our teaching career. 

Well, I am so EXCITED to tell you that today not a single kid went hunting for the Guiness Books.  They all made a beeline to the fiction section, looking for new books to add to their “To Read” list.  They actually used the librarian and me as a resource!  And not just one or two kids were doing this, but all of them!  They were sharing books with each other, recommending titles that they enjoyed.  I just couldn’t believe what I heard and saw.  It really made my day!

So what’s different this year than the other three years I’ve taught 6th grade?  I have put a tremendous amount of time into modeling and teaching the kids how to find good books.  I have bookshared with them almost every day since school began.  I have carved out the time to make sure that I am helping kids find the best books for them.  Today I saw that my focus in this area is really paying off.  Changing my way of teaching reading has taken a lot of time and effort on my part so far this year, but I must say that today was a heck of a reward for all the hard work!