Friday, February 01, 2008

Challenging kids to read something new

Harry Potter, Bailey School, Junie B... we can't keep these in the library they're so popular. But, what happens when they've read them all. They've gone to the public library and read all of those, too. They've begged for new books that neither library has. And they rip through those in two days.

It's a problem most parents and teachers are begging to have.

But, what happens when they whine, "But there's no more!" and refuse to read anything else? The power of groups is at play, here, where all of their friends are reading the same books. They can all talk about the characters, and make up alternate plot lines, and make decisions on whether or not the characters should have made the choices they did.

But many times, once an entire series is consumed, that's the end of the line for many students. They're lost in the land created by one particular series, becoming serious fans, reliving every moment in an attempt to hold on to the joy of the story.

Yes, there are many great extension activities to help students bridge their skills from reading into creative writing. These are worthy activities. But, many students are doing those, and still getting stuck.

There is a next step: helping them move on. They won't be in third grade forever, and so their tastes in reading can and should grow. But how?

The Media Center Specialist (aka, "the librarian") is challenged with introducing students to new literature, and for recommending "the next step" after a series is finished. But, with all the busy activity (our 500-student library regularly sees each student in the library at least once a week outside of the regularly scheduled classroom visit to check out books), how is one librarian able to get to know every student, books they've read, reading level, and personal interests? It's not impossible, but it's a challenge.

Bring back the book report! Issue a challenge: eliminate the five most popular series books from the challenge, and ask students to write a review on a book that they didn't know about before the challenge. Create an area in the library where book reports can be posted, along with a picture of the student, and a picture of the book cover. The pictures of students will draw attention from other students, and that gets the reviews read.

The group influence works here, too, especially if you can encourage prolific readers to write reviews. This is a commonly used tactic in business marketing, identifying the thought leaders and getting the process started with the most willing. It's word-of-mouth for education, instead of sales. All the same principles apply. Start with one laminated poster where you can change out the pictures and review every two weeks, and watch it grow!

Better, and a great opportunity to begin any teacher's foray into web-based applications ("online technology," "the web" or whatever other silly buzzwords you want to add here), start a simple blog where students can have their reviews posted by the teacher. Make it a classroom project. You don't have to identify the students, nor do you need to include the student photos. The students will know well-enough when a review is signed, "Chris B, fifth grader" on "Mrs. Jones' blog." And the secrecy lends itself to some classroom chatter as well.

Are you a parent reading this? Volunteer to start the blog and maintain it. Teachers are insanely busy, but this type of project is worth it. As students write reviews, your adopted teacher simply sends them home with your student to add to the blog. You can do it after the kids are in bed, or when you're checking email. Really, these reviews don't take more than 10 minutes to type. Find a link to the book on and post the reviews with the link. (Hint: Amazon has an affiliate program, where you can earn a commission on books purchased because of your links... something to consider later.)

So where do you start recommending books that aren't on the "forbidden list"? Don't. Let the students do that. If you can get a few students who want their picture on the wall or their post on the blog, they will find a book to write about. I'm lucky. My older son needs only a simple prod: Pick a book at your reading level that's not Harry Potter. Yes, it took a few years of offering stuff to get to this point, like, "If you come home with something besides Matt Christopher, I'll buy that next Hardy Boys book for your collection. Better, I'll go to the public library myself, return the books you have, and pick up the next Charlie Bone for you." But, no money or food is involved, and now he loves picking up new books, and even discovered the Redwall series simply because I pointed to it in the library.

Friday, January 11, 2008

BiLo's Golden Apple Award Goes to Gresham Brown!

Stone Academy has some amazing teachers. So, I'm sure it was a mighty competitive list of teachers considered for BiLo's Golden Apple Award.

Of course, if I had known that BiLo gives this award, and that one of "our" teachers was receiving it, I might not have acted like a giddy school girl when I saw the announcement this morning on Stone's Jump Start TV news broadcast. Giddy, because Mr. Gresham Brown is an amazing teacher. He is one of those teachers who is completely dedicated to his commission, and ultimately passionate.

Don't believe me? Check out what his 4th grade class is doing on his blog, "Mr. Brown's Room 241."