A couple weeks ago, I came across a website called GoodReads and I can’t get enough of it. Essentially, GoodReads is a Facebook for book nerds. There are forums and communities to join, books to add to your digital book shelf and places where you can post your reviews and interact with likeminded readers.
I have a horrible habit of not remembering the books I want to read. The minute I enter a book shop, my memory breaks down and that mental scrap sheet of book recommendations disappears into the ether. GoodReads remedies this problem because I never have to write down any titles or authors; I simply click and add them to my list of “to-reads” and pull it up on my phone.
Oh, but there’s more: GoodReads also gives me the opportunity to interact with published authors and enter into contests to win books before they’re available in book stores.
If you haven’t guessed where this is all going, I’m suggesting that reading teachers share GoodReads with their students. It’s an easy way for students to keep track of their reading progress and gives them a forum for them to make their writing public.
Biblionasium is a lot like GoodReads, but this site has been created specifically for teachers, parents and K-8 students. As with GoodReads, users can set up virtual bookshelves, browse friends’ bookshelves and easily find books with a customizable search bar that allows students to search by title, author or reading level. What makes Biblionasium an ideal choice for parents and teachers, though, is that it keeps them all connected. Here’s how it works:
Teachers create a free account, add students and parents to their roster, and assign passwords. Once students login, build their virtual bookshelves and start cataloging their reading practices, parents can check in to view a reading summary. This report lets parents know what students are reading, how long they’re reading, and whether or not they are challenging themselves.
In addition to GoodReads, an Edmodo buddy alerted me to a similar site called Reading Rewards. Much like GoodReads, users can add books to their digital library, write reviews and join groups, but this site specifically targets kids between the ages of five and fifteen.
Students can track their reading “miles,” earn badges when they hit milestones, and visit the RR Store to collect reading rewards: a movie night at home, for example, or a family game night, a sleepover with a friend, iTunes credit, or game console time. Adults determine how many RR miles are required to purchase rewards.
Teachers can also create accounts and set up their class as a group. Once students join, teachers receive access to a dashboard where they can track class book lists, reading tallies, book reviews, and more. Teachers can also set individual or class reading targets—and because Reading Rewards is fully web based, your students can access it from home themselves.
If neither of these two sites satisfy your needs, there’s also a site called Book Wink. You can learn more about this site by clicking here.
According to a 2011 survey, the Pew Research Center found that 72% of American adults had read a printed book in the last year. A year later they found that 21 percent of American adults had read an e-book in the past year. Using a “broader definition” of e-content, the study found that 43 percent of Americans age 16 and older said they had “either read an e-book in the past year…or other long-form content such as magazines, journals, and news articles in digital format on an e-book reader, tablet computer, regular computer, or cell phone.”
The statistics aren’t as bleak as we expected, but we’re still concerned about the number of Americans, including students, who aren’t reading. Writer and educator Donalyn Miller shares this concern, but in her book, The Book Whisperer, she suggests that by simply rethinking our daily practices, we can not only get our students reading, but actually increase their independent reading time.
5 Simple Ways to Increase Independent Reading Time
How often are your classes interrupted by special deliveries of messages, forgotten lunches, notes that need to go home, or phone calls from the office? Some of these interruptions take ten seconds, others may take ten minutes. In one week, Miller recorded 14 interruptions and documented how much instructional time was lost at the end of the week: a grand total of 40 minutes. That’s 40 minutes students could have been reading!
One way to take advantage of these interruptions is by teaching your students to get out their books as soon as an interruption occurs. Teach your students that a knock on the door or a ring from the classroom telephone isn’t a signal for them to chat; it’s a signal for them to reach into their desks, grab their book and start reading. If you start this procedure right away, your students will quickly internalize it.
Bell Ringers and Warm-Ups
Many of us supplement our literacy instruction with warm-up activities that ask students to “look for grammatical and punctuation errors in a scripted sentence.” Yet research consistently suggests (see Alsum & Bush, 2003; Thomas & Tchudi, 1999 and Weaver, 1996) that little of this grammar instruction actually sticks or transfers to our students’ writing. Considering that, why are we still using it? In lieu of these kinds of activities, Miller suggests that our students spend warm-up time reading.
When Students Are Done
The rule above also applies to students who finish their work early. Instead of allowing them to sit quietly, draw, or grab a worksheet from a folder of extension activities, why not have students read instead? We don’t know about you, but when we were students, the last thing we wanted was to be “rewarded” with more work—so inevitably we began working slower, or pretending like we were still working to avoid extension activities. Reward with books, not worksheets.
For students, picture day is a national holiday. Not only do they get out of class, they get to stand in a long line and visit with their friends. Like Miller, you probably spend picture day “walking up and down the line, monitoring behavior and shushing students.” After years of this, Miller started requiring her students to bring a book to picture day. Not only does this help curb behavior issues, it’s a simple way to reclaim valuable reading time.
Recently a colleague of ours marveled at the fact that we still took our students to the library. While he conceded that library fieldtrips were “good in theory,” they always turned into chaos. While it’s true that many students see library visits as a social event where they get time off, this misconception can be corrected if we model appropriate behavior and make our expectations clear on the first visit.
Here’s what Miller has to say about modeling:
My modeling starts with my giddiness as the first library day arrives. I begin mentioning to students that we are going to the library several days ahead of time and imagine with them the wonderful books we will find there. I post library days on our class Web site. I want students to pick up on the fact that I think library days are events to anticipate. On the big day, I always ask a student to remind me when it is a few minutes before our assigned library time, so that we can line up and get there promptly.
Before they head to the library, Miller goes over the rules:
- Every student must have a book to return, renew, or read, or a plan to get one at the library
- If students do not want to check out a book, they must bring their own book
- Every student must walk out of the library with a book
- Students who are not checking out books can head to quiet corners and read
- When everyone has a book to read, we all sit and read until the library time ends or head back early and read in the classroom
We’ve been racking our brains for creative ways to keep our students sharp when we’re not there this summer. Here’s one of our ideas: have them keep travel journals. Even if your students don’t end up traveling, they can still use pictures, drawings, articles, receipts, and brief journal entries to document the things they did and saw when they weren’t in school.
To get them excited about the idea, we combed the Internet and found five tutorials to help them create their own travel journal. Although students can always purchase journals—Amazon has a large selection—we thought having them create their own would make a fun end-of-the-year project.
Use Travel Journals to Help Prevent Summer Slide
Kim Rankin’s blog Catching Foxes offers an excellent travel-journal tutorial:
Here’s another we found on Mom Endeavors:
Another from Julie Kirk’s website, Notes on Paper:
MyHandboundBooks sells a 9-page tutorial (for $10.00) that outlines the process for making leather journals like the one you see below. The document—a PDF that is immediately sent to your email—includes tips for selecting leather, detailed sewing instructions, and templates to cut out. Everything is fully illustrated with step-by-step instructions and written for people with no bookbinding experience.
Over at Dancing Commas, you’ll find a free PDF template for the journal you see below. You can download the template by clicking here.
If your students worry that they won’t know what to write about, provide them with a few of the prompts below:
"The weather today was"
"I made a friend"
"I learned a new word"
"I tried a new food"
"The best/worst parts"
"I’m homesick for"
"The funniest thing happened to me"
"Today I saw/smelled/heard/felt/tasted"
"Illustrate the difference: draw a picture of a building, vehicle, view, that differs from home"
"Make a collage of found brochures, newspapers, magazines at your destination"
"Draw pictures of each of your travel companions"
Lately our blog topics have been targeting parents and there’s a reason for it: Summer is only a few weeks away. Like most teachers, we’re looking forward to the warm weather and a new schedule, but our students—particularly our struggling readers—are never far from our minds. Will the progress these students made over the last year stagnate in the next three months when we’re not there to coach and encourage them? Did we successfully develop their intrinsic motivation to read? Will parents pick up where we left off? Since you can’t be there over the summer, we’re passing along 10 summer reading activities for struggling readers.
10 Summer Reading Activities for Struggling Readers
- If you’re going on a trip this summer, read about your destination. While you’re on the trip, keep a record of the things you saw.
- Compile a checklist of things you want to do over the summer. Do you want to build something? See something? Go somewhere? Find books or documentary films related to your list.
- Sign up for a summer activity—this could be an art class, a sports team, a dance class, guitar lessons, whatever. Now find books and magazines related to it.
- Get a library card. Parents: Treat this as an honorable occasion and a rite of passage.
- Write a letter to your favorite author. Don’t be surprised when they write you back.
- Start a summer blog and keep your friends and teachers updated on what you are doing. There are dozens of blogging platforms to choose from and most of them are free. Here are a few free blogging platforms you might check out: Blogger, WordPress.com, Blog.com, or even TypePad Micro.
- Write a digital story using a free website called Storybird. Struggling readers and writers are often intimidated by blank screens. Digital storytelling allows users to choose their images first; then they write, tailoring their story to fit the images.
- Watch foreign films and read our blog to find out why you should.
- Subscribe to an online blog that writes about topics that interest you. Get involved in the conversation by commenting on the posts.
- Make a deal with your parents: If they buy something on Amazon.com, you get to write a product review for it.
If you’re looking for more ways to engage struggling readers, check out two of our recent blogs, 5 Reading Strategies you can share with your students' parents and Teaching Reading Means Teaching Students to LOVE Reading.
Photo credit: KOMU news.
When we truly love something, it becomes a visceral experience: we laugh and smile, we feel energetic, optimistic, and time seems to go by quickly. And more often than not, we are compelled to return to the source, hoping to repeat these feelings again. While many of us have had visceral experiences reading books, a good number of our struggling readers haven’t even come close. One way to help students experience this is by creating what Esmé Raji Codell, author of How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, calls positive and collaborative reading experiences.
Below we’ve given you 10 prompts that you can use to initiate conversations and share your enthusiasm for books with struggling readers. While teachers will find these reading prompts useful, many of them have been created specifically with parents in mind.
10 things parents can say to struggling readers
- “You can stay up as late as you want tonight, as long as you are reading.”
- “I remember you telling me that you just finished reading Charlotte’s Web in class, so I rented the movie. I thought it would be fun to see how the movie and book were different from one another.”
- “Here’s a flashlight and some snacks. I’ve set up a reading fort for you in the closet so you’ll have a private spot to read.”
- “I’ve been saving this present for a rainy day. Here’s a new book; it was my favorite when I was your age.”
- “I know waiting in the doctor’s office is boring. I brought this for you; it’ll make the time fly by.”
- “I get bored when I’m folding laundry. Would you keep me company by reading me something interesting?”
- “Tell me about that book I saw you reading. The cover looked interesting.”
- “This is an interesting book cover. Why do you think that the illustrator chose these colors? Would you have illustrated the main character differently? Can you think of another scene that would have made a great book cover? What made you choose that scene?”
- “I’m really glad you’re reading Big Frank’s Fire Truck. I noticed that the firefighters at the station down the street wash their truck every Thursday morning. Would you be interested in walking there sometime so that we could meet them?
- “I saw you reading Meet George Washington last night. Did you know that one of his wife’s favorite desserts was Shrewsbury cake? I found a recipe in a book at the library and thought we could make it tonight after dinner.”
If you are looking for more ways to engage struggling readers, you might be interested in two of our recent blogs, 5 Reading Strategies you can share with your students' parents, and Reading Teachers: Book Wink has heard your students’ cries for help.
We’ve all had to struggle through books we didn’t like—maybe even books we deplored. When it comes to our students, we don’t worry too much about the strong readers. Sure, the text may not resonate with them; they may even use that forbidden “B-word” (boring, of course) to describe it. Nonetheless, they’ll still muster up the strength to press on. Struggling readers are another story: They tend to become discouraged and often give up before they’ve truly even started a book.
We’re always looking for reading strategies for struggling readers, so we were happy to come across a video made by author Jim Trelease called How to Read a Book You Don’t Want to Read.
Trelease’s video was inspired by, of all things, watching tree surgeons cut down a leaning, 80-foot pine tree that threatened his house. The process used by the tree “surgeons,” in a strange way, reminded him of having to read books we don’t want to read. The end result was not only one less leaning pine tree, but also a nine-minute video that may help your reluctant readers. Check it out and let us know what you think.
Strategies for Struggling Readers: Conquering a book you don’t like
We’ve mentioned it before, but when we were kids, we devoured Choose Your Own Adventure books—especially those released by Bantam Books. Bantam ended the series in the late 90s and we’re not embarrassed to admit that we shed a few tears over it.
Thankfully, Choice of Games has picked up where Bantam left off and thrown in a few perks: First, all of their titles (or what they are calling “text-based games”) are free on the web. They’ve also produced mobile versions that can be played on iPhones, Android phones, and other smartphones.
But there’s more.
Choice of Games has developed a simple scripting language for writing text-based games, ChoiceScript, which they make available for others to use. Readers are encouraged to use this technology to write their own text-based game; the company will then host submissions on their website.
Currently they have 12 text-based games, but there are also 18 other user-created books to choose from.
It’s unfortunate, but every year we encounter struggling readers who have been lost in the shuffle or flown under the “reading radar” for years. So you can imagine how pleased we were to come across Spark it, a free reading assessment tool that not only evaluates readers’ skill level, but also offers recommendations for improvement and activities to develop their skills.
What impressed us about Spark It was its “user-friendliness.” As parents facilitate the four parts of the assessment, they’re guided by pop-up icons that tell them exactly what to do, when to do it and what they should say. Should parents experience any issues during the assessment, they can refer to the “tips” icon.
SparkIt assesses students’ proficiency in four areas:
- Vocabulary (Picture Identification): Looking at pictures of objects and correctly naming the objects
- Fluency (Rapid Naming): Quickly naming a string of familiar items—a series of numbers, letters or colors
- Phonemic Awareness: Understanding how individual letter sounds combine to make a word and saying them
- Letter and Word Calling: Pronouncing letters and words correctly, either by sight (just knowing it) or by sounding them out
Once the reading assessment is finished, you’ll receive instant results (see above picture) along with a personalized plan to help the reader improve his or her skills.
Slavoj Žižek is one of our favorite philosophers and cultural critics for a variety of reasons. For one, he’ll talk about anything—the Kardashians, Batman, toilets, the painting hanging behind the President during a television broadcast, whatever—so long as he can use that cultural artifact to help readers understand nearly impenetrable Lacanian theories. For another, he’s brilliant.
We’re not here to talk about Lacan or Žižek , but what we’d like to share does have something to do with a ubiquitous cultural artifact: The Kardashians. We just came across a blog post by Christopher Lehman called “What the Kardashians Taught Me About Reading Instruction.” Like Žižek , Lehman uses an amusing analogy (or cultural artifact) to illustrate something substantive and intellectual.
What do the Kardashians have to do with reading instruction? Lehman’s explanation is simple and makes sense:
Branding yourself as a reading role model
“Kim Kardashian is on television, social media, billboards, magazines, ads on sides of buses, even Oprah. Love her or hate her, she is everywhere. And everywhere she shows up she is styled to be glamorous, branded to be the very fashionable friend you maybe, just maybe could have in your life if you shopped at the same places and bought the same things. We [teachers] need to take a lesson from Ms. K and brand ourselves as readers just as carefully so our students have that vision to aspire to.”
Here are a few tips for branding yourself as a reader:
- Have a predictable opening line
My friend Audra, for example, quite regularly begins conversations by asking, "What are you reading?" She has done that so often with me that I have started doing the same thing with others. It's as catchy as a catch phrase.
- Any press is good press, as long as it's press
Don't think you can only talk about reading when you've just finished a great book. Even talking about how hard you are finding it to make time to read, or how you just can't find a good book, is still a book conversation: "I have four half-read books on my Kindle that I just can't seem to find the time to read. I'm particularly feeling bad about Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, because Melody, the main character just shocked her entire class and I'm nervous to find out what will happen next..." Ta-da, you're talking about reading. Even if you feel ashamed.
- Post your reading life anywhere you can
Place an "I'm currently reading..." white-board on your classroom/office/bedroom door. Post reviews on Twitter or Goodreads or Nerdy Book Club or anywhere you can think to. Wallpaper your room with book covers from books you have read or want to read next. Be as annoying-mazing with your branding as a Kardashian SlimFast ad followed by a Kardashian perfume ad followed by a preview of their next super new episode. Be everywhere.
This is only a brief excerpt of the article; to read the rest of Lehman’s post, stop by The Book Whisperer.
Reviewers have called it gimmicky, but we’re confident that even your most reluctant readers will stand by Patrick Carman’s multi-media Skeleton Creek series.
Engaging reluctant readers with a multi-media reading experience
Strange things have happened on an old dredge in the woods and best friends Ryan and Sarah are determined to unearth what people in town are hiding. Forbidden to see one another after Ryan is injured during an earlier misadventure, the duo continues to communicate through email.
The “book” portion of Skeleton Creek, a Mead-style, handwritten journal, is Ryan’s contribution to the story. Here we find his musings along with a series of links and passwords taking us to Sarah’s field videos. Following in the footsteps of films like the Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, readers accompany Sarah as she’s forced to confront several unsettling truths: That those closest to her may be linked to murder; that Ryan’s “accident” might not have been an accident; and that there’s a specter of a ghost haunting a wreck in the woods.
Do the prose and filmmaking merit high accolades? They’re certainly not Joycean or Langean, but to your reluctant readers—they just might be.
If you’re looking for a few more tips for engaging your reluctant readers, check out one of our recent blogs, Teaching Reading Means Teaching Students to LOVE Reading or download our free Reading Comprehension Best Practices guide.