Wednesday, July 23, 2014

CyberPD Week #3: Reading in the Wild

This year, I am participating in my first CyberPD event. We are reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild together! During the month of July, we'll be reading and reflecting on her amazing book and its implications for our classrooms!

Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild has undoubtedly made a lasting impression on me. Reading this book has inspired me to become more of a wild reader in my own life and has challenged me to think about the ways in which I will instill wild reading habits in the lives of my students. Each time I finish a chapter, thoughts whir inside my head of how to best implement Donalyn Miller's ideas in my life and classroom. This week, as I finished chapter 5, Wild Readers Show Preferences, and thought about its application to my life, two words stuck out in my mind:

1. I need to read more books! 
It seems like every page of Reading in the Wild preaches this fact to me. It is undeniable: I have to read more books! I truly enjoy reading now, but I don't do it with the fervor I once did. I was the girl in middle school who walked down the hall during class changes reading a book and who skipped recess to stay inside and read. Unfortunately, a midst the busyness of high school, college, and grad school, I lost my excitement for reading (I think it got buried deep underneath a stack of textbooks). Lately, I've been feeling the love reignite, though, and I want to keep fanning that flame! As Donalyn Miller continuously points out, I must read often so that I can (A) be a role model for my students, and (B) know what books to recommend to them. 

2. I need to read more widely! 
In my personal reading life, I am definitely guilty of returning to the same types and genres of books time after time. I would estimate that 90% of my reading involves either realistic fiction (and mostly young adult fiction these days, as I prepare to teach MS/HS) or some type of spiritually-focused non-fiction text (e.g. the Bible or devotionals). I very seldom stray from these fields. Eek! Donalyn Miller is cringing. 

After reading chapter 5, I am vowing to start reading more widely! I need to know about books that appeal to all types of readers. In this chapter, Donalyn Miller points out that our students' reading should not be influenced by our own personal preferences and biases, and I know that she is right. I want to read from a variety of genres so that I am knowledgeable about any type of book my students might like. I need to explore books beyond those I naturally gravitate toward. 

One of the first things I want to do is to read a graphic novel. I actually have not tried this type of book yet, having always "written them off" as "long cartoons," but now having read Donalyn's take on graphic novels in this chapter, I have decided to give them a try. I know my ELLs will benefit from it if I am more knowledgeable about graphic novels that might appeal to them. 

3. I need to intentionally build excitement in my students about all genres of books. 
Good habits don't just form. They come from intentional, repeated practice. I believe that this is true for reading habits, too. Throughout this chapter, it became so apparent to me that nothing Donalyn Miller does in her classroom is haphazard. She puts so much thought into every book she reads and recommends. This is how I desire to be in my classroom, as well. 

I cannot expect my students to just start reading from a variety of genres on their own. Most children will naturally gravitate toward particular genres and will hesitate to stray from them. However, it's important for me to begin showing them the beauty and intrigue in a variety of books. How will they ever branch out as readers if I don't get them excited about what other genres have to offer? 

In my classroom this year, I hope to do this by deliberately doing book commercials about books that span wide styles and genres. I also like the idea of using a non-fiction text for a read aloud in my classroom. This isn't something I had considered before reading chapter 5, but it certainly seems like a great idea to help excite my students about reading non-fiction and pique their interest. I think that many of them come in with similar biases to what Donalyn Miller described in her own students (e.g. non-fiction is all about dead presidents and whales!). By carefully selecting some non-fiction texts, I can prove to them that non-fiction can be fascinating. 

4. I must hold my students accountable for reading books from more genres.  
Perhaps my favorite part of this chapter was Donalyn Miller's explanation of her "genre requirements graph." I love this idea! It seems like a great method to keep students accountable for what kinds of books they are reading. I also really like that Donalyn gives students a required number of books to read by genre, but allows for an allotment of "free choice" genres, as well. In my opinion, it is the perfect way to ensure that students are exposed to a myriad of styles of writing without restricting their freedom too much or turning reading into a chore. I see these genre requirement graphs as a tool that students can use to help them discover their reading preferences as they experiment with reading across all genres. 

I am almost certainly going to be "stealing" this idea from Donalyn Miller in my ESL classes in the future! In fact, I may even create my own "genre requirements graph" and, in an effort to make sure that I do read more widely, hold myself accountable to the same standard Donalyn sets for her students! 

5. The best, most beneficial reading conferences are done with intentionality. 
As I mentioned earlier, nothing Donalyn Miller does in her classroom is haphazard. There is a rhyme and reason for everything....right down to calling her kids "readers" and "writers" instead of "students" so that the identity they build in the classroom is one they can carry with them well beyond their school years. I just love that! 

Donalyn Miller's intentionality jumped out at me most with respect to her reading conferences. Do  any of you ever feel lost directing a reading conference with your student? To  me, it seems like it's easy to know that we should do reading conferences, but hard to know exactly how to do them well. For that reason, I really appreciated the description in this chapter of how Donalyn Miller runs her reading conferences. Each question she asks, each minute she uses, and each note she takes has a purpose. Her conferences are not "conferences for conferences sake," but rather more like an intentional, deliberate art of gathering specific clues to help her learn about her readers and teach them how to grow. I aspire to bring the same intentionality to my classroom in the upcoming school year. 

As if the first five chapters weren't helpful enough, Donalyn Miller concludes this book with a wonderful appendix that is chock full of useful resources. I know I will be going back to these appendices in the future when I am wondering, "WWDMD" (What Would Donalyn Miller Do?")! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

CyberPD Week 2: Reading in the Wild

This year, I am participating in my first CyberPD event. We are reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild together! During the month of July, we'll be reading and reflecting on her amazing book and its implications for our classrooms!


Reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild for CyberPD has really made me think! This book is loaded with so much good information that I almost find my brain to be on overload each time I finish a chapter. As I have been reading, one of the biggest questions that has been swirling around in my mind has been, "What does being a teacher who helps students learn to read in the wild look like for me?" 

For the last two years, while I have been in graduate school, I have written what seems like countless reflection papers about books my professors deemed noteworthy. Each time I wrote a reflection, I would include in it a plan to apply the principles from that book or chapter to my future classroom and teaching. Almost always, I imagined implementing various practices and principles in either a secondary ESL classroom or an Intensive English Program. Both environments were pretty obvious places to apply the lessons I was learning in my TESOL Master's program and were, at the time, my "future dream jobs." 

However, as I sat and reflected on Reading in the Wild this week, I found myself struggling to visualize exactly how I was going to apply the principles from this book in my life and classroom this year. There is no doubt in my mind that Donalyn Miller is spot-on with everything she says. The trouble is, I can't figure out what it will look like to flesh all of this out this year for me. 

You see, on July 1st, I started working as the International Program Director at a local Christian school. Honestly, the job is perfect and it's more of a "dream job" than I ever could have imagined. The story of how I got it is one of God's faithfulness - but that's a story for another time. The important information is that this semester, my biggest responsibilities will involve: completing the design for an international homestay program, recruiting students from other countries, and teaching 6th- and 7th-grade Spanish. 

These responsibilities are pretty different from those I thought I would have as a secondary ESL teacher. Once we recruit international students and have them come to our school, I will then be in charge of teaching two ESL classes, but until that point, my job consists largely of the three areas listed above. 

So, as I read chapters 3 and 4 of Reading in the Wild, I found myself repeatedly thinking, "This stuff is great! But how can I implement any of this in the upcoming semester? What does it look like to encourage students to read in the wild from the lens of an International Program Director/part-time (traveling) Spanish teacher?" 

This is a work-in-progress, but at this point in time, after some reading and reflection, here is what I came up with: In my current position, this semester I can apply what I'm learning in Reading in the Wild by becoming more of a wild reader! 

Once I have ELLs of my own, you better believe that I will be going back to this book and trying to apply what I've learned about reading conferences, reading graffiti, reading doors, preview stacks, book drawings, reflections, reading communities, and more! Until then, though, I want to spend this semester becoming more of a wild reader. I have to believe that displaying wild reading habits on a consistent basis will have a positive effect on the students around me - even if I'm teaching Spanish and not ESL. 

As I said earlier, Reading in the Wild has made me think. It has made me evaluate my own habits and has pointed out several areas in which I need to grow as a wild reader. With that in mind, here are some of my biggest takeaways from chapters 3 and 4: 

  • I need to remember that, as Donalyn Miller says, "reading is ultimately a social act" (How Wild Readers Share Books, para. 1). I have often fallen prey to the idea that reading is what quiet introverts (me!) do. The more I read in Reading in the Wild, the more I understand that it is so important to talk about books with others. Just this week, I started trying to do a better job of this and began asking some of my friends what they had been reading lately, if they were on Goodreads, etc. I smiled in my heart as I realized how very right Donalyn Miller really is. I left each conversation I had with my friends feeling closer to them (because we had connected on a new level), more excited about reading in general, and with several book recommendations that I immediately added to my own Goodreads "to read" shelf (some from genres I don't normally tend to prefer)! Making reading more of a "social act" is something I want to work on this year. 
  • As I consider my "bottom line" as a teacher this year, I know that I want to foster meaningful relationships with all of my students. No matter what I am teaching, reading books that interest my students is one way to develop relationships with them. So, this year, I want to spend a lot of time with my nose in some great youth fiction reads. I love the thought of having impromptu "book talks" with students before and after school, in passing in the hallways, etc., and learning about them as we talk about the books we enjoy. 
  • If reading affects a child's performance in every academic area (and I believe it does), then all administrators and teachers (foreign language included) need to be reading role models for their students. Just because I am not the one explicitly teaching them how to be wild readers doesn't mean I shouldn't model for them what it looks like to be a wild reader. As Donalyn Miller discusses, children need to be part of communities that value reading, and I would love to be a part my students' reading communities! I can only do that well, though, if I am truly a "wild reader." 
  • I need to challenge myself as a reader more and try to identify some of my "book gaps," as she mentions in chapter 4. I already know two of my biggest book gaps. Are you ready for this? For some reason, even though both series are unbelievably popular in our culture, I cannot make it through The Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter. Gasp! I know, I know. No one can believe that I just don't really love either of these book series. I've read a few books in each and always find myself  bored or uninterested. However, I know that both of these series are pretty popular with the students I will interact with this year. So, perhaps this will be the year that I will finally try to fill in some of these glaring book gaps (and then work to identify and tackle other gaps I know I have in my reading life). 
  • Finally, as Donalyn Miller discusses in chapter 4, I want to figure out a way to challenge myself in my reading life more. I'm honestly not sure of the best way to do this. I've seen "annual reading goals" that people can set on Goodreads and like the idea of reading every book from an award-winning list. However, to be completely honest, part of me is hesitant to set one of these goals specifically because I'm afraid that reading will then begin to feel like a chore or something I "have to do" rather than something I do out of enjoyment. What are you thoughts on this? How have you all found success in challenging yourself as readers without losing the love of it or feeling bogged down by goals you set? 

So, there you have it! Chapter 3 and 4 of Reading in the Wild have certainly given me much to ruminate on. There are so many ways I can apply these principles in my job this year even though I won't be an ESL teacher, as I originally thought. 

Do you have other suggestions for how I can apply some of the ideas from 'Reading in the Wild' in my job this year? I'd love to hear them! 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#cyberPD Week 1

This year, I am participating in my first #cyberPD event. We are reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild together! For four weeks in July, we'll be reading and reflecting on her amazing book and its implications for our classrooms!

Have you ever savored a delicious dessert before eating dinner? I have – and I have to admit that although I always feel a tad guilty doing it, it never fails to be supremely enjoyable.

That’s how I felt when I delved into Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild before reading her first book, The Book Whisperer. I had every intention of reading The Book Whisperer this summer, but when I learned about the #cyberPD opportunity, I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance to read what was sure to be an incredible book alongside so many other educators. So, I decided it was a “dessert before dinner”-type moment, immediately purchased Donalyn’s second book on my Kindle, vowing to later purchase the first.  I’m two chapters in and so far it has been exactly what I hoped it would be – inspiring, thought-provoking, and, as with any real “dessert-before-dinner experience,” supremely enjoyable.

Reading in the Wild provides a tremendous amount of food for thought. It was one of those books in which I began highlighting important information and soon found myself staring at an explosion of color on the pages of my Kindle.

The introduction alone was enough to make me burst at the seams with excitement about equipping my future students not only with the skills they need to read, but also with a love of reading that will cause them to become independent, life-long readers and book-lovers. If the statistics Donalyn shares in her introduction don’t get you fired up about reading, I don’t know what will! As she notes, “children who read the most will always outperform children who don’t read much,” as it is the habit that is most linked to success in the workforce, getting a professional job, and college/career readiness (Introduction, para. 7). How could we not want to help all of our students become “wild readers”?

Since it’s hard to argue with the facts surrounding the importance of reading, the real question lies in how we can teach students to become “wild readers”- that is, independent, life-long, habitual readers and book-lovers. To that point, each chapter in Reading in the Wild discusses characteristics that lifelong readers exhibit. For our #cyberPD reading assignment this week, we learned that “Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read” (chapter 1) and “Wild Readers Self-Select Reading Material” (chapter 2).

As I consider how I want these two chapters to affect my life as a teacher this coming year, I have come away with a few key takeaways:

(Side note: I am reading this book through the lens of an International Program Director at a Christian School. While my primary duties now involve recruiting international students,  I will hopefully begin teaching Supplemental English Instruction and Writing Workshop courses starting in January).

Chapter 1 Takeaways

(1) “Not having time” cannot be an excuse not to read – for my students or for me! I have to admit that I am guilty of pushing reading aside when life gets hectic. I tend to “binge read” on vacation but in the day-to-day, my personal reading often suffers at the expense of tackling my to-do list.  As the “lead reader” in my classes, I need to devote time to reading in order to model for my students what being a wild reader looks like (Classroom Nonnegotiables section, para. 5). My students need to see me making time for reading because it is important and enjoyable. I love how Donalyn discusses reading in “edge time” or during “reading emergencies” with her students. These are conversations that I hope to have with my future students. I believe that they show how reading can (and should) be integrated into our busy lives.  

On a similar note, I want to always devote time to reading in my classes.  As a new teacher this year, I think that there will be times when I am tempted to forgo reading in an effort to “catch up” on a myriad of other things.  However, cutting out reading time not only prevents students from having those 10, 20, or 30 minutes to read that day, but it always sends harmful messages to my students that reading is the first thing to go when our schedule is full.

(2) One thought that really struck me as I read this chapter was that reading is not a solitary activity! This is an easy mistake to make. However, this chapter reminded me of the importance of a reading community. This is something I want to establish in my classroom. Students need the opportunity to discuss what they are reading with each other, share book recommendations, and develop “reading relationships.” They also need belong to a community of readers that values reading. Through the relationships they foster in that community, they may come to see that reading is not just something that takes place in school during “required” time.

(3) Reading isn’t haphazard! I want to give my students opportunities to reflect on their personal reading habits so that they can gain the skills they need to become wild readers. I like Donalyn’s idea of using “Reading Itineraries” and “Response Letters 2.0” as some tools to do this.

Chapter 2 Takeaways

(1) I love the idea of doing read alouds across various genres with my students! I had never considered this before, having only ever thought of using fiction for read alouds. This seems like a great way to pique students’ interest in genres they wouldn’t normally consider.

(2) Donalyn’s ideas on how to create excitement in students (or “book buzz,” as she calls it) for new books were ideas that I immediately wanted to incorporate in my future classroom. I definitely want to utilize “book commercials” with my students and just love her idea of the “book drawing”!

(3) I think transitioning from suggesting specific books for students to read to enabling them to self-select books would be a difficult task.  The “preview stacks” idea of giving students a stack of several recommended books is genius! I appreciate how this gives students the opportunity to practice self-selecting based off recommendations from a source they trust, but also lets them exert their independence in book selection (and possibly even gives them a few ideas to add to their “to read” list).

(4) The primary thought I had at the end of this chapter was something along the lines of, “I need to read more books!” If I want my future students to become wild readers, I am going to need to help them along the journey. Of course, this will require me to be able to recommend books for them and to teach them how to self-select books. I cannot really do this very well if I’m not familiar with books that are appropriate for them. The biggest takeaway for me here is to read, read, read! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why I'm Not "Really" Blogging Tonight

"B.W. Post Office" came the voice through my phone.

"Hi," I replied, "I'm calling to inquire about some mail I had held recently. It was supposed to be delivered yesterday but still hasn't arrived."

"Ok. What's your address? I'll go check in the back."

A few minutes later, the postal worker returned to the phone with surprising news for me.

"Ummm... you have a crate full of mail. There's too much for the carrier to deliver. You have to come here to pick it up."

Thankfully, she couldn't see it when my eyes bugged out of my head. I quickly agreed to come retrieve our mail, wondering how much could have possibly accumulated in just three weeks.

Thirty minutes later, as I held out my arms for the postal worker to load me down with nearly a month of letters, magazines, coupons, packages, bills, and all sorts of junk mail, the curious stares coming from customers behind me were palpable.

"Well," I thought to myself as I heaved the pile of  mail onto the back seat of my car. "That certainly changed my plans for the evening!"
Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Postcards from Greece

"Dear family," my pen scribbled, "Γειά from Athens!"

I paused for a moment, pen in hand, and contemplated what else to write. How could I even begin to describe our time in this city so rich with history, let alone the two weeks we had already spent in the Cyclades? Looking at the beautiful photography on the front of each postcard reminded me of the wonderful memories my husband and I had made during our "Trip of a Lifetime 2.0".  

How could I possibly describe to my family the beauty of a Santorini sunset? 

What words would paint a picture that allowed them to understand how small I felt standing on the summit of Mt. Zeus looking out on the Cyclades, or in the Acropolis looking up at the Parthenon? 

What should I write about the day we hiked up and around a volcano or swam in the natural hot springs of the Aegean Sea? 

How could I make them comprehend the emotions I felt and how the Bible came to life for me as I stood on the very hill Paul did when he addressed the Areopagus in Acts 17? 

And how could I share the joy that filled my heart after spending every second of every day for the last two+ weeks with my very best friend, chatting incessantly without ever running out of things to talk about, and laughing so hard my stomach ached? 

The white space on the back of my postcards seemed to shrink smaller and smaller by the minute.

Although trying to summarize even just one of the last 16 days seemed almost futile, I crafted a few sentences for my postcards, listing a few "highlights" of our trip. As I clicked my pen once again, I felt overwhelmingly blessed by the realization that I could easily fill an entire book with all of the memories my husband and I had made during this incredible vacation. While our trip was coming to an end, the memories we had made would last a lifetime. 
Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Hiker's Guide to Climbing Mt. Zeus

If you ever find yourself in the Cyclades on the island of Naxos and are filled with the desire to climb and explore Mt. Zeus, the  mythological childhood dwelling of said Greek god, allow me to share some (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) advice, based on my experiences yesterday...

From the city center of Hora, board a local bus and wind your way through the beautiful Naxian villages. After about 45 minutes, when you hear the bus driver shout the city name, "Filoti!" hop off the bus and look for a cute little Greek cafe called Platanos.
Enter the maze of alleys behind the cafe and pass through quaint little neighborhoods full of children playing and cats napping in the shade. As you get farther and farther away from Palomas, it might seem like the "trail" to the summit of Mt. Zeus is nowhere to be seen...
...but don't get too worried. Just keeping going up and eventually, you'll be rewarded with a sign. Once you see the sign, pause for a moment to do a brief happy dance now that you know you are definitely on the right track.
From there, begin the ascent to the church of Agia Marina via a small trail intended primarily for goats. If you ever get lost, just follow goats have kindly left behind to guide you.  (I'll spare you the picture!)

As a forewarning, a few other critters may come out to greet you along the way.
If you, as I am, are terrified of snakes and spiders, don't let yourself get too freaked out when they come to welcome you to Mt. Zeus. The adrenaline that courses through your veins as a result of unexpectedly spotting these critters just might give you the energy to scurry up the entire mountain without feeling nearly as tired as you thought you'd be!

Once you spot the white walls of the Aghia Marina church in the distance, do a second happy dance because now you are definitely on the right track and good news awaits you: there will be fewer critters who join you for the rest of the trek. The trail from here on up is a bit more hiker-friendly. Yes, it's okay to let out a little sigh of relief once you realize that (I did!).
With fewer animal friends to worry about, it is now time to truly soak up the scenery around you. Marvel at the rolling hills and rock-covered mountains. Linger for a moment to take a sip of water and listen closely. You just might hear the clamor of bells tied around the necks of Naxian goats who are roaming about the very same mountain.

Continue your ascent up Mt. Zeus, keeping a watchful eye for trail markings in the form of signs,

cairns in the distance,

or, once again, the trails that those friendly goats left for you.

Keep going up and up, while being sure to soak up the breathtaking views around you on what just might be a perfectly gorgeous, sunny day.

Soon enough, you will be rewarded with the sight of a small monument that marks the summit of this mountain and the stunning scenery that is yours to behold as you stand on the highest point in all of the Cyclades.
Of course, at the summit, you must sign your name in the "log book," joining the company of those who have climbed this mountain before you, and you must then take the obligatory "selfie" before beginning your descent.
Then, retrace your steps. Don't worry, even though you are taking the same path back, you won't grow tired of the awe-inspiring views.

And if you make it back down the mountain with time to spare before the next bus arrives, I strongly recommending rewarding yourself with a treat at the Platanos Cafe. They make a mean chocolate-banana crepe.

Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Perks of Jet Lag

My eyes fluttered open as I awoke in an unfamiliar place. What time is it? My stomach growled. Had I slept through breakfast? My mind replayed a scene from yesterday when my husband and I checked into our cozy B&B on the island of Santorini.

"Breakfast is served each morning from 8 until 10" the manager had informed us with a thick Greek accent.

I rolled over and looked at my husband, who was still sound asleep. We couldn't possibly have both slept past ten, could we? After fumbling for my glasses, I reached for my phone to glance at the clock.

4:36?! You've got to be kidding! Good morning, jet lag!

Resolved not to get out of bed before 5 on my first day of vacation, I lay back down, closed my eyes, and tried to drift back to sleep. It was no use.  My brain was awake and there was no convincing my body otherwise. I settled for closing my eyes and "dreaming" of all of the things we were going to see and do on this vacation.

After nearly an hour, I decided that I could no longer lie still anymore. Glancing back at my husband, I realized that he had not budged an inch. Thankful that he is a heavy sleeper, I began to tip toe around our room in the dark.

Buried in my carry on was a granola bar calling my name. There was no way I could wait three more hours for breakfast. My body's internal clock was all messed up and the overwhelming signal it was sending to my brain was, "Feed me!"

With a belly a bit more satisfied, I suddenly had a bright idea. What time dose the sun rise here?  I clicked away on my phone, grateful for free wifi, and learned that the sun would rise on Kamari Beach in Santorini at 5:56 a.m. If I hurry, I can hop in the shower and still make it outside in time for the sunset. Geography has never been my strong suit, but I was pretty sure that we were facing east, so I thought that my odds of catching a gorgeous Greek sunrise were pretty good.

I was right. Fifteen minutes later, after opening our balcony doors, still trying desperately not to wake up my husband, I looked to the horizon and let out a little squeal of excitement  The sky was painted with a stunning array of colors. Moments later, the bright, blazing sun peeked its face over the horizon and rose slowly into the sky. It was absolutely beautiful.

Sitting down on our quaint little balcony, I soaked up the morning beauty around me. Maybe jet lag isn't so bad after all.

Catching the sunset on my first morning in Santorini

The view from the balcony of our cozy B&B

The view from the other side of the balcony wasn't bad either!

Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!