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Get Ready for Your Best Year Ever with the ELA Live Summer Series

Reading
The ELA Live Summer Series is a free professional development occuring on Facebook from August 1-15, 2017! Check out Doc Cop's session on choice reading!

The ELA Live Summer Series kicked off on June 1st, and my session, Tips and Strategies to Incorporate Choice Reading, was on August 3rd on my Facebook page, but you can watch the session here!

 

Here is a list of the resources I referenced in my presentation:

VIP Resource Library Access:

Resources:

The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instagram Post:

I didn’t have a classroom library until my 6th year of teaching when I was hired at my new school and inherited books from the teachers whom I replaced. Even at that, during years 7 and 8 (year 8 was last year), my classroom library was more of a #classroomdecor piece than anything else. Last year, I studied choice reading for my secondary students, and it was a major success! So I decided it was time to put some ❤️ into my classroom library. With the help of my husband (a hs history teacher), I added SO many books to my classroom bookshelves this summer (ALL of the top ones on my initial wish list), and I did so REALLY inexpensively. Most books were under $2 and a lot were free! I wrote an article about our bookish adventures, so check it out if you’re looking to build your classroom library inexpensively. #linkinbio Where do you find inexpensive books? (Disclaimer: My students still were 💯% awesome critical thinkers when I didn’t have a functional classroom library.)

A post shared by Dr. Jenna Copper (Doc Cop) (@doc_cop) on

Blog Posts:

Panel discussions are a great activity to engage students in critical reading. Download your free resources to use panel discussions in your classroom.

Don’t forget to check out all of the amazing ELA teachers!

Aug. 1st at 9 pm EST
“Project Based Learning for Secondary English Classrooms” with Mud & Ink Teaching

Aug. 2nd at 9 pm EST
“Strategies for Writing Commentary for Literary Analysis” with Bespoke ELA

Aug. 3rd at 9 pm EST
“Ideas and Strategies to Incorporate Choice Reading” with Doc Cop

Aug. 4th at 9 pm EST
“Pinpoint the Source of Most Reading Problems in Five Minutes” with Reading Simplified

Aug. 5th at 9 pm EST
“How to Teach Students to Elaborate on their Thinking” with English, Oh My! 

Aug. 6th at 9 pm EST
“How to Run a Book Club” with The Reading and Writing Haven

Aug. 7th at 9 pm EST
“Encourage Independent Reading in Reluctant Learners” with Samson’s Shoppe

Aug. 8th at 9 pm EST
“Using Showcase Projects to Increase Engagement” with Spark Creativity

Aug. 9th at 4 pm EST
“How to Publish Student Writing Online and Create E-Portfolios” with Amanda Write Now

Aug. 10th at 9 pm EST
“5 Hidden Gems (books!) that Both Teachers and Students will Love with 2 Lifelong Teachers

Aug. 11th at 9 pm EST
“Starting on the Right Track with Struggling Secondary (Dependent) Learners” with Secondary Urban Legends

Aug. 12th at 9 pm EST
“Back to School Digital Escape Room” with Lit with Lyns

Aug. 13th at 9 pm EST
“Conferring with Student Writers” with Wild Child Designs

Aug. 14th at 9 pm EST
“Giving Meaningful Feedback to Writers” with Read it. Write it. Learn It. 

Aug. 15th at 9 pm EST
Grammar Manipulations: Holding Language” with Language Arts Classroom

The ELA Live Summer Series is a free professional development occuring on Facebook from August 1-15, 2017! Check out Doc Cop's session on choice reading!

How to Get Started With Critical Reading

Featured, Reading
Critical reading is the key for your students to unlock deeper meaning. Learn how to get started and download your free plan guide!

What is critical reading?

Critical reading is the activity involved in reading for a deep understanding. The skills necessary for critical reading involve reflecting, close reading, and questioning to name a few. In other words, critical reading challenges students to move past surface-level interpretations.

Literary Criticism

Literary criticism is a type of critical reading activity that involves studying, interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating a work of literature. If you teach any type of critical reading, you are using literary criticism as a pedagogical approach. Therefore, it’s no surprise then that literary criticism has a vast history of practices and theories, which span over a period of more than 2,000 years.

Literary Theory

Considering this long history dating back to Plato, you won’t be surprised to learn that scholars have stressed different interpretative methods to go about literary criticism (Takolander, 2009). Then, literary theory is a set of schools of literary analysis based on assumptions or guidelines that shape the way the reader interprets a text. These theories focus on different areas of interpretation based on the theme of that theory. As a result, literary theory is often referred to as multiple perspectives or multiple lenses.

How can critical reading help my students?

Empowering students to think critically and analyze content on their own can be a very difficult task for the teacher, yet these reading skill sets are vital for students to be prepared to grapple with difficult content in college and problem solving situations in the workforce as well as succeed on standardized tests (Bloom, 1959; Carr, 1998; Baker, 2002; Collins, 1993). Fortunately, the connection between teaching literary theory to students and students’ improved critical thinking and reading skills is well supported by a review of the related literature (Appleman, 2009; Barker, 1965; Beach, Appleman, Hynds, & Wilhelm, 2006; Cox & Lewis, 1974; Golden and Canan, 2004; Harper, 1998; Knickerbocker & Rycik, 2002; Muller, 2006; Pace, 2006; Parfitt, 1997; Rozema, 2001; Sagan, 2003; Schade, 2004; Troise, 2007).

When students consider different perspectives to their reading, they learn to address the different, and sometimes conflicting, ideologies that exist within a particular text.  This transaction with the text encourages students to break out of lower-level thinking (comprehension) to engage in higher-order thinking skills, such as synthesizing information from a variety of perspectives to create a new perspective based on their reading. Acknowledging these differences, students engage in a textual relationship that empowers them to create their own understandings based on the many complexities of a text (Faber, 2011). This type of awareness is particularly important for developing empathy and empowerment, two characteristics that are the basis for a cooperative, productive society.

How can my students become critical readers?

Critical reading is an activity that all students are capable of mastering, and therefore, all students in all age groups, even pre-kindergarten, can become critical readers. No matter the grade level, the steps for creating a critical reading classroom follow a three-step system that I call TPA (pronounced “T” “pa”). Using the TPA model, teachers can plan their reading units around this model:

  1. Texts: Choose texts of academic merit.
  2. Perspectives: Determine the perspectives related to that text.
  3. Activities: Design activities to analyze the text based on those unique perspectives.

How should I get started?

Free Planning Resource

I created this free planning resource to simplify your critical reading planning. Download your free planning resource to get you started:

 

Free Professional Development

You can also read my blog posts and watch my live PD sessions related to critical reading:

Critical reading helps students gain a deeper understanding of the text. Critical reading helps students gain a deeper understanding of the text. Critical reading helps students gain a deeper understanding of the text. Critical reading helps students gain a deeper understanding of the text.

The Complete Guide to Literary Theory

Planning critical reading lessons can be time consuming. That’s why I created The Complete Guide to Literary Theory.

The Critical Reader's Guide to Literary Theory gives teachers & students background and practical applications to use literary theory to build critical reading skills.

This guide will streamline the planning process by providing you with a perspectives checklist that links to a variety of common perspectives. By completing this checklist, you will easily determine which perspectives apply to the work. Also included is a teacher’s guide for an easy-to-follow explanation of each perspective with suggested activities related to each perspective. You do not have to be an expert in literary theory to teach multiple perspectives!

Critical Reader’s Guides

You can also find complete Critical Reader’s units that are already developed to cover these multiple perspectives. These units include all materials necessary to develop, engage, and assess critical readers. I am working to develop new Critical Reader’s guides for all of our favorite works. I would love to hear your requests. You can email me at jennacopper@gmail.com.

The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.The Critical Reader's series is a collection of resources designed to engage students in multiple perspectives analysis to create a classroom of critical readers.

Critical reading is the key your students need to unlock deeper understanding. Learn how to get started and download your free plan guide!

References

Appleman, D. (2009). Critical encounters in high school English: Teaching literary theory to adolescents.  New York: Teachers College Press.

Baker, L. (2002). Metacognition in comprehension instruction.  In C.C. Block & M. Pressley (Eds.), Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices (77–95). New York: Guilford.

Barker, J. (1965).  The essay test in teaching the concept of literary analysis.  Testing in English. 52(5), 31-35. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Beach, R. (1993). A teacher’s introduction to reader-response theories. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English.

Beach, R., Appleman, D., Hynds, S., & Wilhelm, J. (2006). Teaching literature to adolescents. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Bloom, B.S. (1959). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: David McKay Company Inc.

Carr, K. S. (1988). How can we teach critical thinking?  Childhood Education, 65(2), 69-74. Retrieved from Platinum Periodicals.

Collins, N.D. (1993).  Teaching critical reading through literature.  Eric Digest. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Cox, R. & Lewis, S. (1974). The student critic.  Cambridge: Winthrop Publishers, Inc.

Faber, J. C. (2011). Re-envisioning the transaction: Literary theories in the high school English classroom. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest.

Golden, J., & Canan, D. (2004). “Mirror, mirror on the wall”: Readers’ reflections on literature through literary theories. English Journal, 93(5), 42-46. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Harper, H. (1998). Dangerous desires: Feminist literary criticism in a high school writing class. Theory into Practice, 37(3), 220-8. Retrieved from ERIC.

Knickerbocker, J., & Rycik, J. (2002). Growing into literature: Adolescents’ literary interpretation and appreciation. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 46(3), 1-14. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Muller, V. (2006). Film as film: Using movies to help students visualize literary theory. English Journal, 95(3), 32-38. Retrieved from Research Library.

Pace, B. (2006). Between response and interpretation: Ideological becoming and literacy events in critical readings of literature. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49(7), 584-594.

Parfitt, M. (1997). What kind of discourse?: Thinking it through. Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, 1-15. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Rozema, R. (2001) “Heart of darkness” webquest: Using technology to teach literary criticism. National Council of Teachers of English, 1-29. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Sagan, C. P. (2003). Sing a new song: A fresh look at literary criticism. English Journal92(6), 40.  Retrieved from Wilson Web.

Schade, L. (1996). Demystifying the text: Literary criticism in the high school classroom. English Journal, 85(3), 26.  Retrieved from Research Library.

Takolander, M. (2009). Energetic space: The experience of literature and learning. College Literature, 36(3), 165-183. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Troise, M. (2007). Approaches to reading with multiple lenses of interpretation. English Journal, 96( 5), 85-90. Retrieved from ProQuest database.

Wilhelm, J. D. (2009). The power of teacher inquiry: Developing a critical literacy for teachers. Voices from the Middle, 17(2), 36-39.  Retrieved from ProQuest database.

7 Cheap and Easy Ways to Build Your Classroom Library

Reading

When I decided to go all in with choice reading for my secondary English classes, I knew it was time to build my classroom library with intention. Up to that point, I had a classroom library that was really just there for looks. Some of my bookworm students would ask to borrow books, but I didn’t even have them organized in any logical manner (Gasp! I know! For an organization-obsessed teacher, I realize this is a cardinal sin!)

Building your classroom library can be both cost efficient and fun! Check out these 7 places to find cheap choice reading books for your secondary students.

When I experimented with choice reading last year, I instantly knew that this strategy was a winner for my students. There are so many benefits to a robust classroom library, but for me, I wanted to be able to give my students access to all of my favorite classic and young adult novels for their free choice reading assignment. I was lucky to inherit books from the teacher whom I replaced, but I still had a long way to go to acquire books that I wanted in that library. Over just a few months, I checked every major book and/or genre off my list and into my classroom bookshelves! Even better, I did it cheaply!

Here are seven of my best tips for building your classroom library and doing so in a way that won’t break the bank:

1) Ask your friends and family

This one seems obvious, but I didn’t think to do it until we were cleaning out our basement and we realized just how many books we had been hoarding! Unfortunately, most of those books were not what I needed for my classroom library (a lot of football coaching books and teaching trade books), but it made me wonder if other people had hoards of books as well. I started by asking my family members if they had any books they wanted to donate to my classroom. The response was incredible! I couldn’t believe how many people had hoarded books like we did.

The next step was reaching out to my friends. You may even find success if you write a public announcement on Facebook. It helps if you frame it like you’re hosting a book drive for your classroom library until such and such a date. People tend to be more likely to donate if you make it sound official and you give them a deadline.

2) Browse discount stores

Check any and all discount stores for the chance that you might find relevant books for your grade level. My husband and I found so many great deals on books at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet; we purchased eight brand new books for my library for $12!

3) Find used book stores

Yes, used book stores still exist, but you may have to do a little searching for them (and likely a little driving for them). It can be well worth it though. We discovered an awesome used book store at State College, PA. We turn in our used books to them and get credit for purchasing used books from their store. This summer, I was able to get six books for my classroom library on that credit. Granted we have to drive two and a half hours to get there, but in truth, we love any excuse to go to PSU.

4) Search buyer/seller networks

Facebook Marketplace, Amazon Used Books, Half.comhttp://www.half.ebay.com/ (an ebay Company), and Craigslist are great places to search for books. As a bonus, you don’t even have to leave your house! I tend to use these marketplaces when I have to have a specific book. Just make sure you check out the condition before buying online without seeing it.

5) Go to yard sales and flea markets

This option is hit or miss, but you might find other fun classroom decor or flexible seating options, so it’s definitely worth it.

6) Travel to book sales

We used to have an amazing book sale in a warehouse just down the street from our house. Sadly, the storage center was sold and the book sale ended. This lead me to try to find other book sales in our area. This is when I found an amazing website, Book Sale Finder. I’ve found two library book sales within an hour drive coming up in the next two weeks. Check this website out for sales in your state.

7) Stop by thrift stores

The Salvation Army Thrift Store, Goodwill, and other consignment stores often receive book donations. (This is where we donated ten boxes of our book hoard, so we know from experience.) In fact, when I asked my teacher friends on Instagram, they overwhelming responded with Goodwill as their go to.

I didn’t have a classroom library until my 6th year of teaching when I was hired at my new school and inherited books from the teachers whom I replaced. Even at that, during years 7 and 8 (year 8 was last year), my classroom library was more of a #classroomdecor piece than anything else. Last year, I studied choice reading for my secondary students, and it was a major success! So I decided it was time to put some ❤️ into my classroom library. With the help of my husband (a hs history teacher), I added SO many books to my classroom bookshelves this summer (ALL of the top ones on my initial wish list), and I did so REALLY inexpensively. Most books were under $2 and a lot were free! I wrote an article about our bookish adventures, so check it out if you’re looking to build your classroom library inexpensively. #linkinbio Where do you find inexpensive books? (Disclaimer: My students still were 💯% awesome critical thinkers when I didn’t have a functional classroom library.)
A post shared by Dr. Jenna Copper (Doc Cop) (@doc_cop) on

You can check out the full post and comments here.

Bonus: Find free eBooks

In my opinion, nothing beats a physical book and a bookshelf filled with your favorite books. Still, you can’t beat free. If your students have a SmartPhone, tablet, or computer with internet access, they can find thousands of eBooks for free. Project Gutenberg is my favorite for classics, but you can even find contemporary eBooks with a simple Google search.

Although it can be somewhat tiring, we find book hunting to be really fun. Who doesn’t love a good deal on a good book? When you do come across those treasures, don’t forgot to play the teacher card. You just might get an even better deal.  Good luck filling your bookshelves!

Building your classroom library can be both cost efficient and fun! Check out these 7 places to find cheap choice reading books for your secondary students.

 

Make the Best Decision: A Free Tool for Teachers and Students

Reading

It is an understatement to say that I’ve learned a lot from my dad. He can fix anything. I have this great memory of coming home from school to my dad sitting on the floor surrounded by the washing machine in about 1,000 pieces and thinking to myself, “There is no way this is ending well.” I won’t act like I didn’t hear any choice words whispered under his breath, but somehow the next day that washing machine was working like new. 

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!
In terms of his role in my life, he was (and still is) my coach, counselor, financial planner, mechanic, contractor, and for lack of a better term, my hero. Without getting too sentimental, I’d like to share one of the most important life tools that I learned from my dad: the Pro Con List. 

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!
 
It seems so simple, but it really has guided my decision making since I was a little girl. I’m not saying that you should make a pro con list for every decision (i.e. it’s not really necessary or advised to use it for deciding what to order at a restaurant). However, for important decisions, it has really, really helped me. 
 
I love it so much that I even created the “pretty” version you see above to use in my classroom (for reading and counselling). You can download it for free here. I print off a bunch and have them in my classroom in case a student comes to me with a difficult decision (e.g. What college should I go to?, Should I take AP next year?, etc.). I also use it as during reading and after reading activities. For example, when after reading part I of Antigone by Sophocles, I ask students to assume the role of Creon, the antagonist in the tragic Greek play. I ask them to complete a Pro Con list for Creon’s big decision: should he or shouldn’t he punish his niece, Antigone, for disobeying his edict? The students use the Pro Con list to determine what Creon should do. At the conclusion of the story, we revisit their Pro Con list and discuss what Creon should have or could have done differently based on their judgments. Not only are they addressing higher-order thinking skills, but the students are also learning and important life skill: decision making. As you can tell, the Pro Con List is a big time winner in my book.

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!

Here’s why I love it:

  1. It requires higher order thinking. Evaluating a decision and potential outcomes is one of the highest thinking skills on Bloom’s Taxonomy. 
  2. A Pro Con list makes the abstract, concrete. Decision making (and thinking in general) are abstract. However, once you put potential outcomes and realities on paper, it becomes concrete, hence helping you make better decisions.
  3. It’s universal. If you can write, you can do a Pro Con list. Adults and children alike can benefit from this practice.
  4. You have a record of what you were thinking long after the decision is relevant. I found a Pro Con list that I made years ago when I decided to go to pursue my doctorate in education instead of law school. Not only is it interesting to see how far you’ve come from that decision, but it is also validating to remember why you made that decision.
  5. It really does help you make the best decision, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, at least you know you made an informed decision.
Happy Father’s Day to one awesome dad! I love you!

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!


Best of luck with your next decision!

As a Father's Day tribute, this post explains dad's decision-making philosophy with a free tool to help you practice making the best decisions and teach your students to do the same. Apply this concept and tool to the real-world or the classroom!
 
 
 

10 Meaningful Graduation Gifts That Will Make an Impact

End of the Year, Reading

Graduation season is upon us, which means you’ve likely been invited to graduation parties for former students. No matter your philosophy about attending graduation parties, you most likely will find yourself in search of the perfect graduation gift for at least one special graduate. Of course, you can give money or a gift card, but it’s unlikely to make a lasting impression and the cost can quickly add up if you’re attending several (or many) graduation parties. One meaningful graduation gift that can make a true impact is a book picked specifically for that special student. With a personalized inscription in the front cover, the student will not only remember you when his or she picks up that book, but if you choose wisely, the meaning behind the book selection can become a special treasure. Plus, you’re a teacher, so books are kinda your thing!

Check out this post for ten meaningful graduation gifts for every student in your class. These ideas will make an lasting impact (but won't break the bank)!


The following list describes 10 books that are perfect for every student in your class. These books not only match with a particular interest, but they are really meaningful books for any reader (even you!). Most of them are so cost efficient you could even pair the book with another special trinket (as I explain for a few of them).

*Thank you to my husband (a social studies teacher) who helped me compile this book list!

For questioners:

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins

Written by famous evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, this nonfiction book is the perfect gift for a student who asks insightful questions. I call these students “questioners” because they simply don’t stop questioning. To encourage them to keep asking those tough questions, give this book, which highlights many fascinating and challenging questions and their scientific answers, and rest assured their questions will keep coming.

For organization-fanatics (or students who need to become more organized):

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Mari Kondo

Taken from the title, life changing is just about the only way I can sum up this book! It is perfect for any organization fiend, like myself, or any student who needs a push in the right direction. This book would be perfect for a student who is ready to pack up his or her belongings and head to college. Need proof? Check out this post by B’s Book Love. She talks about how this book inspired her and her husband to downsize, and while you’re there, you can learn about how to apply it’s magic to your classroom.

For leaders:

Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success by John Wooden and Jay Carty

I read this book for the first time in one of my doctoral classes. The basic principles outlined in Coach Wooden’s pyramid can be applied to just about any life situation, which makes it a great gift for a graduate on your list, especially those leaders who may want personal and professional development.

For athletes and/or soon-to-be soldiers:

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by John Krakauer

Pat Tillman is one of my heroes, and his story, though tragic, is inspiring on so many levels. He was an NFL star who left the game (and millions of dollars) to respond to his personal call to serve his country after 9/11. His story will inspire your graduate to follow Tillman’s free spirit, patriotism, and heart.

For poets:

Poetry 180 by Billy Collins

This poetry collection by former American poet laureate, Billy Collins, is a collection of 180 contemporary poems that are accessible and impactful. One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Animals” by Miller Williams. This short poem that relates the lives of our pets to periods in our lives is just one example of the finely selected poems that are likely to engage new graduates.

For nature lovers:

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Your students may have touched upon transcendentalism in their American Literature class, but it’s not until they read Walden in its entirety will they understand the “truth in the quiet of nature.” As a bonus, this classic work is only $5, so you could pair it with a beautiful bouquet of flowers or a small plant.

For adventurers:

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

This classic novel is touted as one of the best adventure stories. As a bonus, it’s really cheap (like $3 cheap), so you could pair it with a compass as both a practical and meaningful gift to symbolize finding your way. Credit goes to my dear friend and colleague, Mrs. Mortimer, for the compass idea! She also makes beautiful t-shirts blankets that make beautiful graduation gifts and would be perfect for keeping warm on a chilly night by the campfire. You can find her on Instagram here.

For class clowns:

Connect Using Humor and Story: How I Got 18 Laughs and 3 Applauses in a 7 Minute Persuasive Speech by Mr Ramakrishna Reddy

This book is a great addition for anyone. It contains practical advice and step-by-step directions for using humor. Though it tops the list in price, it is worth it. Not to mention, you usually only have one class clown!

For future lawyers:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I got this idea from one of my former students. She loves this book so much that she asked me to read a chapter of it before I had even heard of it. When she stopped back the next period to talk about it, I had tears running down my face. It’s that good. Civil rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson, will make an impact with this book.

For aspiring educators:

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things by Robert Fulghum

What I like about this book is that it is a great first book to build a classroom library, and it contains important fundamental life advice.


Check out this post for ten meaningful graduation gifts for every student in your class. These ideas will make an lasting impact (but won't break the bank)!


I hope these ideas can help you give a special gift to your special graduate. You don’t have to be a teacher to give these books either! Don’t forget to write a special inscription in the front cover so the student knows why you picked that particular book for him or her.

Happy summer!

6 Tested Strategies for Successful Summer Reading

End of the Year, Reading
My first attempt at a summer reading assignment required all students to read The Hobbit and write an essay. It was a major fail! We had a lot of grumbling and poor outcomes. In an anonymous survey, I discovered that only about a fourth of students said they enjoyed the book; only a third said they read the whole book; and just about all of them hated writing the essay. I blamed the students for their lack of commitment and their blatant laziness. Then, once I got over my initial disappointment and frustration, I realized the problem was not with the students, but with me.

Check out these six tested strategies to engage your students in successful summer reading! Plus, download a free editable summer reading assignment and book list! As a bonus, this book list has teacher must-reads too!

I had good intentions, but I let them down. I set them up for failure. I was deflated. But, that was five years ago. I didn’t give up, and neither should you. It took two pilot studies, lots and lots of researching, and collaboration; nonetheless, in the end, I have a summer reading philosophy that not only works, but one that makes me proud. I hope to save you time and energy by sharing exactly what works for me (hint: choice reading is the key!). Plus, I’ll share one of my editable summer reading assignments to help you get started, so keep reading.

 

1) Explain your objective to the students in a positive light.

What is your purpose for assigning summer reading? If you start with, “If you don’t do this reading you’ll be kicked out of AP,” or “You have to do this reading to pass your standardized test,” or “If you don’t do it, you’ll start the year with an F,” most students will associate these negative attitudes with reading. Truly, if your purpose is to force your students to read or to “weed out” students from upper-level classes, I caution that you may want to frame it to the students differently.
 
It’s really all about wording. To me, and probably to our students, those above objectives sound punitive. There is nothing worse in this case than assigning summer reading that actually make students hate reading.
 
If you frame the objective to your students with positive language, students usually will be more open-minded, and at the very least, it makes us sound more positive to parents and administrators. Here are some examples of objectives I might communicate to the students:

 

  1. The objective of this assignment is to encourage you to make summer learning gains.
  2. The objective of this assignment is to inspire you to find something you love to read.
  3. The objective of this assignment is to motivate you to enjoy reading.
  4. The objective of this assignment is to help you get ready for class next year.
Notice the use of positive words? Encourage, inspire, motivate, and help are positive words to associate reading with positivity. If your students know the objective up front and understand how it will benefit them, they are more likely to start the assignment with positivity.
 
Although wording is a good start, it alone does not determine the success of the summer reading. The reading material and the assignment are where the success comes in.

2) Give them choice!

This is SO important! I’ve written about this before, and I’ll write about it over and over because I can’t stress enough how beneficial this has been for my students. One of the biggest fails of my first attempt was that I tried to make all students read The Hobbit. It is such a specific genre that I completely shut out more than three-fourths of my students who don’t like fantasy. Duh! How could I have overlooked this? My revelation came when my husband who is an avid reader commented that I could never get him to read that book. He hates fantasy. It makes sense! If I had to read a 600-page book on George Washington (which he is currently doing and loving by the way), I would hate reading too. We can’t expect students to love a book just because we love it. That’s where choice comes in.
 
Since you do have an objective and focus, I recommend choice through a well-researched book list. Giving 100% free choice can be done, but it’s risky. There are a number of things that could go wrong, such as students reading books that are far below their reading level, unrelated to your content, lack merit, or are inappropriate. To combat these issues, a well-researched book list will give options while making the choice focused to your objectives.

3) Collaborate to make an awesome book list.

 
It can be challenging to come up with these options because let’s face it, we don’t all have time to read every book option out there; however, you don’t have to go at it alone.  Talk to your teacher friends who love reading too. My go-to helper is my husband. He helps me come up with cross-curricular options for students who are going to be in his history classes and who love to read historical and political works. For this reason, I strongly suggest to speak to your history and science teacher friends. This way, you don’t have to read every book, but someone from your school did. (As a side note, you do have to be careful with this. I trust my husband’s opinion and I know he won’t steer me wrong as far as appropriateness goes. Just make sure you trust your collaborators.)
 
Although I don’t have a standard for you, I try to offer at least eight different categories with two options each. If your goal is nonfiction reading, try to base it on topic. If your goal is fiction reading, go with genre.

4) Align your assessment to your objective (and be savvy).

 
Your assessment should guide students to mastery (or growth) related to your objective. Your instinct might be to go straight for the essay, like I did. This might be a good option depending on your objectives. Say for example, one of your objectives is to form a baseline for student writing. Then, the essay might work. While this is one of my AP objectives for the first weeks of school, writing an essay at home is different than writing an on-demand, timed essay, like they will write on the AP exam. Therefore, this objective doesn’t match my summer reading objective.
 
You also have to consider yourself when assigning your assessment. This is where the savvy part comes in. To me, there is nothing worse than starting the school year by collecting 100 essays. That’s the mistake I made my first year. If you’re into doing all that grading to start the year, that’s cool too, but it’s not for me. I felt like I was starting the year in the hole, and I didn’t like it.
 
Here are teacher-savvy, non-traditional ideas for assessment:
  1. Sticky note scavenger hunt–Give them literary items (mood, tone, irony, author’s purpose, etc.) that they have to find and mark with a sticky note. This is easy to assess through conferencing when the students come back to school.
  2. Creative thinking project–Check out the details here.
  3. Journaling–Ask them to journal about their reading. Give them length and page requirements and topic suggestions and tell them to have at it.
  4. Discussion boards–This is the one I’m doing this year, and I’m excited about it! Essentially, the students will log in to our LMS (Learning Management System) over summer break to participate in asynchronous discussions about their books. You can read all of the details of this assignment by downloading my Summer Reading Assignment Example and Book List below.

5) Send reminders and due dates over the summer months.

I use RemindHQ and Google Classroom to remind students over the summer. This is an easy way to send reminders. If you use Remind, they will receive a text message directly to their phones. I find this to be a really important step because it is so easy to get consumed by the summer slide. Sending out short and sweet reminders will give them a push to stay on target. It will also help you field questions.
 
Now, I do want to add that I don’t advocate working without pay over the summer. The way I justify it is that it saves me a TON of grading time once the school year starts. It makes my life easier! Plus, I’m willing to do it. I enjoy it, and it’s meaningful for my students. Though, you most likely are under no obligation to answer messages over the summer, I don’t mind because it prevents problems when we come back to school. So, in that way, I do feel like I’m getting paid.

6) Create a backup plan.

What if you have a student who is enrolled in the class (or district) right before school starts? Should the student be exempt from the assignment? Is this fair to the other students? What happens if a student doesn’t have internet or computer access? What if a student can’t acquire a book (for financial or other reasons)?
 
Only you can answer these questions for your situation, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a back up. It will save you time and energy to have this ready to go. My suggestion is to include at least one option that the students can check out from your room that way the kids who don’t have the money or time to purchase or borrow their own book will still be able to complete the assignment. You usually only need one classroom set to do this. I also have an alternative assignment in case a student enrolls late. You can read about my back up in my example assignment.

 
Please feel free to use my example summer reading assignment in part or in whole! If nothing else, I hope you’ll enjoy our book list for your own summer reading. It has some of our absolute favorites! Although it’s really hard to pick just one favorite from that list, I have to go with The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt. Check it out!  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at jennacopper@doccopteaching.com.
Check out these six tested strategies to engage your students in successful summer reading! Plus, download a free editable summer reading assignment and book list! As a bonus, this book list has teacher must-reads too!
 
Happy reading!
 


Doc Cop

How to Create Excitement When You Introduce Choice Reading

Featured, Reading

Snapchat is ultra-popular with students, so I knew anything that made the app’s influence educationally appropriate and meaningful would be a hit. This led me to create my new favorite resource: Book Snaps!

 

Book Snapchats are a great way to engage students in a deeper understanding of any work! They can be used to introduce options for choice reading, or students can create their own as an enrichment analysis activity. They also make fun classroom decor. Use the free template to create your own!

Book Snaps are an interactive and engaging activity for ANY book! The Book Snap is comprised of a snap (a picture) that represents the work and a caption (a quotation from the work). They are perfect for introducing a snapshot of a book during a choice reading unit, like The Critical Thinker’s Novel Study, or an enrichment activity to engage students in higher-order analysis. As a bonus, they look beautiful printed and displayed around the room for trendy and meaningful classroom decor. Keep reading for my free template so you and your students can make your own.

Introducing Book Options

To introduce the book options for our choice reading unit, I used my own clever Book Snaps. They were perfect to give students a snapshot of the book without judging it by its cover.

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I wrapped each book in black paper, like a gift, and created a Book Snap for each book (more on that below). Once I had my Book Snaps ready to go, I taped them to the corresponding wrapped books and placed each book with a group of desks. (I also added a short summary of the work to accompany the Book Snap.)

Book Snapchats are a great way to engage students in a deeper understanding of any work! They can be used to introduce options for choice reading, or students can create their own as an enrichment analysis activity. They also make fun classroom decor. Use the free template to create your own!

Students moved around the classroom to each station to learn about the books and pick their favorite option.

Enrichment Activity

These Book Snaps also make a great activity for students as an additional analysis for your choice reading assignment or any reading assignment. You can download the template here:

Ask students to find a picture that represents a “snap” of the book and a corresponding quotation for that picture. I advise students to use Open Educational Resources (OERs), so that they are only using images with a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, which means they are completely free to use without attribution. Unsplash and Pexels are our favorite OERs for this project. They should add emojis and hashtags that would enhance that Book Snap. The beauty of this activity is that even if you’re doing a whole class novel, you are certain to have MANY different Book Snaps.

Below is a demonstration for how to create a Book Snap. You can show your students for a quick tutorial.

Once they’re completed, I ask students to present an explanation for their Book Snaps to the class. I ask them to tell us what they did and why. My AP Literature students create Book Snaps as a review for the Open-Ended Free Response Question on the AP exam. They work really well for this review because the visuals and quotations make them particularly memorable. Maybe they’ll even remember that Book Snap quotation to impress the AP readers!

Don’t forget to display your Book Snaps around the room. I love how they look on cardstock or photo paper.

Check out the first post in this choice reading series, “How to Engage Your Readers With Choice Reading: The Set Up,” here.

Happy Snappin’!

How to Engage Your High Schoolers with Choice Reading

Reading
Learn how to engage your high schoolers with choice reading!
I am so excited to bring this series to you today. I have been researching choice reading since the spring of 2014, when my English department decided to create a summer reading program. After our pilot trial during that summer, I gave in to my instincts and started reading about choice reading units versus whole class novel units. With several successful attempts at choice independent reading under my belt, I gained confidence in my conviction that I could be on to something big with this choice reading idea, which led me to read more and more on the subject. 
Still, it wasn’t until I read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer that I decided to tackle a true choice reading unit in class during the school year. My initial take on the book left me feeling somewhat defeated, though inspired. I felt that much of the information in the book was specific to younger levels; therefore, I was left with more questions than answers: 
How would I ensure that my students were picking books that were appropriate? 
How could I possibly read enough books to offer direction and advice to over 80 students? 
What would they do in class on the days that they weren’t reading? 
How would I challenge them to think critically about their reading if they were all reading different books? 
How would I encourage active reading?
How would I assess their understanding of the book?
In this blog series, I will explain how I answered these questions and in doing so, created one of my best and proudest educational endeavors. I hope you will find my experience helpful. More than anything else, I hope you find it inspiring. If something I did inspires you, like Donalyn Miller did for me, then my English-teacher heart will be content.

Whole Class Novel Versus Choice Novel 

There are compelling arguments for both whole class novel units, a unit in which the whole class reads the same novel, and choice novel units, a unit in which each student chooses a novel to read. In my nine years of teaching, I have facilitated whole class novel units and choice novel units. While there are certainly challenges to both endeavors, I found one really significant issue with whole class novels: some students simply hate the book. I chalked it up as a “get over it” experience. I could be heard rationalizing something like, “Sometimes in life you’re going to have to do things that don’t particularly spark your interest.” “Consider it a learning experience.” “Most students love this book!” or “How could you not like it?” Ouch! Did I really say that? No wonder, I had students who claimed they didn’t like reading. To combat these students whom I was sure weren’t reading the assigned out-of-class work, I forced in-class reading on them. I hated popcorn reading as a student, and I hated it even more as a teacher. If I was going to get students to like reading, stressing them out about mispronouncing a word in front of the class surely wasn’t going to do it. 
It wasn’t until I was on the other side of the classroom that I finally could empathize. Because reading is one of my strengths, I rarely found a book that I couldn’t chug through, even if I didn’t like it. However, one year, I was tasked with teaching As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Plain and simple, I hated that book. It was a struggle to teach a book that I could barely force myself to pick up. As much as I hated it, it was a pivotal learning experience for me. Now, I could see how I was alienating some students during our whole class novel units. 

This is not to say that whole class units do not have a place in the English classroom. For example, I love whole class drama units. To me, they lend themselves to whole class study for the engaging way roles can be assigned and acted out. Whole class novels absolutely can be done effectively, but from this point on, I knew I wanted to try something different. 

The Set Up

Defining the Objective

When I first began this endeavor, I struggled to visualize the choice novel unit in my classroom. My vision was blurry because I struggled to define just what they were to do. As with any novel unit, I knew I wanted my students to be engaged in a higher-order analysis of the work. I also knew if they hated the book, were unmotivated to read it, and therefore, not reading it, it was impossible to get them to dig deeper. Sure, I could force the book on them in class, but just how engaged would they be? The answer is not at all. Been there, done that. I had to define my objective.
Using a backward design approach, I broadly defined the goals of the unit:
  1. inspire students to enjoy reading
  2. engage students in creative and critical thinking related to their reading
With these two ideas in mind, I had a new focus and could start to take on the challenging questions related to the book choices. I encourage you to start with your overall goals for the unit. Yours certainly could be different from mine; however, I found that these two goals serve most classes and grades.

Creating a Book List OR Establishing the Parameters

Book List

Due to the number of students who would be participating in this unit (60 students across four classes), I soon realized that absolute free choice was out of the question. I didn’t have the resources (books or time) to service that many students. Alas, I hit what I thought was a devastating road block. 

However, just because I couldn’t give the students free reign on their choices, didn’t mean I couldn’t give them a choice; it didn’t have to be all or nothing. The answer was simple: a book list. The decision to use a book list solved a number of problems. A well-researched book list would give them choice, but I wouldn’t have to worry about complexity or appropriateness. With that many students, I wouldn’t have the time necessary to review each selection. The challenge was giving enough choices. Here is the criteria I used to when constructing the book list:
  1. The book has at least 20 copies available.
  2. The book represents the curriculum. (My class is British Literature.)
  3. The book fits a unique genre (different from the other selections).
  4. The book is age appropriate/approved by the school board.

I searched every inch of the high school to find sets of books that could work for this project. I decided on eight options that represented different genres, including love, heroic, adventure, Gothic, mystery, drama (as in dramatic action, not a play), psychological, and nonfiction. (Obviously, the nonfiction option was not a novel, but it was about Jack the Ripper, so it fit the British content, and it met the other criteria. In retrospect, I’m really glad I included a nonfiction option for students who really would rather read nonfiction.)

Parameters

My AP students will be participating in this unit after the AP exam. It will be the perfect creative culminating unit after the stress of the rigid AP exam. I only have 22 AP students total so a true free choice assignment is much more realistic. Even still, using the experience with my other classes, I’ve already created a set of parameters:
  1. The book must be on the approved book list set forth by the school board. (If you do not have an approved book list, this one might read, “The book must display literary merit.” This is something that is subject and will require your approval; however, I would still give them a chance to argue their case.)
  2. The book must be age appropriate.*
*By age appropriate, I am referring to complexity. I do not use page numbers as a requirement, but rather focus on the appropriate complexity for their age group.
Because our district has a number of classroom sets of books that would fit this description, I will offer them these choices. However, if students would like a book that I do not have copies of, they are responsible for arranging their own copies.

Designing the Reading Survey

The purpose of the reading survey is to ask students about their interests so you can help them make a reading choice that they will enjoy. It also helps me make some recommendations if a student is on the fence about two choices. This reading survey works well if you ask general questions about the students reading (and watching) interests. I include watching in my survey because I do not want them to feel defeated if they haven’t read much in the past. They can’t really know what books like, if they haven’t read much before, right? By asking them what they like to watch, I can get a feel for what they might like to read. I personally love using Google Forms for the reading survey because my information is saved in a Google Sheet for easy access.

My reading survey is included in The Critical Thinker’s Novel Study Bundle in both digital and print sources.
(Being that we did this project in March, I already knew my students well enough to develop this list. However, you may want to give a reading survey before you create the book list if you are starting this project before you feel confident about the trends for the year or age group.) 

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Click here to keep reading about how I used Book Snaps for an introduction to the choices and a student-led enrichment activity. While you’re there, don’t forget to download your free Book Snap template!



Happy Reading,