Friday, August 21, 2020

Choosing the Perfect Read-Aloud

If there's a favorite time of the day for me, it's when I get to do my read-aloud with the class. Just getting to share a book for pure enjoyment takes away the academic pressure and also builds community in our class. I could write a whole separate post on why you should still be reading aloud to your older students, but instead I'm linking one that I found and liked here. I want to share more about how to pick a great book today because I have a feeling I'm mostly preaching to the choir anyway! 😉

For a long time, I read almost exactly the same books every year, and that was kind of okay. The kids enjoyed the books, and they were quality novels that created community and even provided good conversation. However, there were three issues with this system: 
1. After some time, I started to tire of some of the books.
2. Even more importantly, I wasn't considering or even really noticing is that most of my books featured the same types of characters. And they were almost always white boys.
3. I also tended to select books from my favorite few genres (for me, realistic and historical fiction). I may get one fantasy book in the year.

Now I try to be much more intentional about what I select. Thanks to Facebook pages such as We Need Diverse Books and also some amazing Instagram friends, I am constantly adding new books to my library and pulling many of them into read alouds. That doesn't mean I completely abandon old favorites. I just mix them in with other new, great books.

Things to Consider When Choosing Your Next Book

1. What have I already read? To this day, I STILL begin each year reading Louis Sachar's There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom. It is one of my all-time favorite books, and I think it has some fantastic lessons about friendship. However, for a while I went from that to Wonder (also a fantastic book). Two books in a row about friendship, but they're both realistic fiction with white male leads. It's time to change things up a little after that, or maybe even earlier. It might not be a bad idea to make a list of the books somewhere and include the genre and main character.
2. What is the makeup of my classroom? It's SO important that students see themselves in books, so you should work especially hard to find books to match your school's population. For me, I keep a very close eye out for books with Indian and other Asian main characters (there are a few in the graphic above that I personally love, but I can point you toward more if you're interested). Do your research. Ask around. Find teachers from those backgrounds, whether they're at your school or on social media. 
**This does NOT mean that you shouldn't find books to represent students who are not in your classroom. It's almost as important that our students learn more about people they don't already know also. It helps them work through biases they might have without even realizing it.
3. Who wrote the book? Not all books with diverse characters are good representations. For instance, Stone Fox would not be a good choice for representing Native Americans. A good place to start is looking at who wrote the book. Ideally, you want people of color writing about their own culture. They would be the experts, after all. Rick Riordan Presents is a branch of Disney-Hyperion Publishing that works to publish and promote fantasy books with underrepresented cultures. I've read a little over half of these books already, and they are FANTASTIC. The Serpent's Secret actually is not part of that series, but I read it with my class a few years ago, and it was so cool to hear from my Indian students as they explained more background with some of the mythological elements.
4. Is it good for my class right now? There are some years that I know my class is not going to be able to handle certain books as a read aloud for whatever reasons (that doesn't mean I can't use it for book clubs). As much as I love The Crossover, if I have a student who recently lost a parent, I'm not going to pull that one. Or the style just might not appeal to that specific group. It's best to pre-read your books so you know what to expect and can plan accordingly. 
5. Can I commit to this book and show excitement about it? If you aren't invested and excited, your students won't be either. It's not good for anybody.

What are your favorite read-alouds? What are some great new titles you've discovered that I maybe didn't add above?

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Effectively Using Bitmoji Classrooms

Hey guys! I'm sure many of you have seen the craze of Bitmoji classrooms and felt a variety of things: anxiety over creating one, FOMO because they're so cute, excitement to make yours the best, etc. I wanted to share my two cents and also (at the end) share an easy to use template for what I think will get the biggest bang for your buck.

Confession: I am a minimalist. I hate clutter, maybe because I'm slightly ADD, and I can't function well with it. This is also true for your students. I also have been working hard to make sure that the things I do and create are actually useful and beneficial to my students. As cute as some of these classrooms are, if you send something out with a million hidden treasures, it may not actually support your students with their learning.

If you notice, I only have 3 links (email, Clever, and Epic). That's okay. I don't need this to be a jumping point for everything. For that I have Schoology and my Google Site, which includes easy to use buttons with the titles to follow. More on that another time, although I will say I made it all last night and don't know why I didn't take the plunge earlier. 

If you're wanting to learn how to make these, Hello Teacher Lady has a great tutorial here. Or you can google "bitmoji classroom templates" and find a million resources. I literally copied and pasted from a few I liked.

HOWEVER, this type of Bitmoji classroom is not going to be where most students find what they need, and I think it's perfectly fine to completely skip this step. Especially if it's causing you anxiety. What I'm more excited about are the information slides that I've created for students to find what they need.This set includes:

- virtual meeting expectations
- learning objectives
- weekly schedule
- assignments due
- "What Mrs. Dalton is reading"

I made this an editable template so that you can make a copy and then personalize to fit your needs.To make it more fun, I left my bitmojis along with what to search to find the same kind for you. You just need to create your own bitmoji and download the Chrome extension, then you're all set! 

Is there anything else you would like to see? I'm open to adding new slides if you realize something else that could be useful to students!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Running Book Clubs in a Virtual Learning Scenario

Hi! Of course it's been quite a while (story of my life), but I wanted to get on here and provide a little support for those of you who will be doing virtual learning this fall (like me). I know that it's a totally new way of approaching teaching, and I am FAR from an expert with it, but one thing that I found successful in the spring was the way I ran my book clubs.

I've been doing book clubs with my students for a long time, and it's one of my favorite things! I have collected many sets so that students have a lot of choice, and I just wasn't ready to let that go when we had to shut down the buildings in March. Here are my suggestions:

Preparing for Virtual Book Clubs

  • If you have access to your classroom, select the books and get them to students. I know this varies from school to school, but some of you may have the ability for students to either pick up materials OR deliver them to homes. I'm hoping this will be an option for me in the fall, and, since we only rotate through books every few weeks, I wouldn't need to worry about driving around to all of those houses ALL the time.
  • If you can't get them physical books, make good use of online library resources. For the spring, I didn't have the option to use my books, so I went to Epic! (Teachers can get free access, AND they have expanded free access to students). First, I spent a LONG time browsing their website and jotting down any titles that I thought would be engaging for the students and would also provide good discussion. Another resource that could be helpful here is Hoopla, but it does require the family to have a library card. Talk to your librarians as well because you may have access to ebooks through the school library or your district may have other resources as well (Tumblebooks, etc).
  • Select a few titles and either assign or have students pick. I always give my students a google form to select their top choices and then work from there. Since I could let as many kids as I wanted read each of these books at a time, I just created a google sheet and listed each title. Then students added their name under whatever book they wanted without worrying about the number. Of course, in the spring book clubs were optional for my county, so I didn't have quite as many students doing them. You may have to set a cap on the numbers or split a group in two. You decide what works best for you.
  • Make a schedule for assigned readings AND virtual meeting times. I did 30 minute increments just to see how things went in the spring, and we never spent that long talking about the book (although sometimes we spent that long just talking and catching up)! With my fall schedule, it will be much more structured, and I'm going with 15-20 minute clubs.
If you're looking for an easy resource for students to be held accountable for their reading and also keep them on track, I have been using an SPQC format for a few years. It takes practice and training for students to know what to do, but I find it very effective! Instead of each student having a different job (and some students not doing their job or whatever other problems I've run into), everyone write a short Summary, Prediction, Question, and Connection. These 4 square sheets stay in their notebooks (when we're at school), and students can refer back to them throughout the book to remember what happened. You can access this sheet to print (or just have students recreate in their notebooks (it's super easy) OR find the digital version to share with students for these virtual book clubs! Click here or on the picture below to access.

I also allow students to use these sheets and their book when we take our final assessments on the book at the end of the unit. For those interested, stay tuned for more about that assessment because it has made my life SO much easier and it's more meaningful to the students!

What great books have you found that your students can access virtually? I'd love to collect some amazing titles for the different grade levels and share them out in another post! Comment below with some ideas!