Friday, October 07, 2011

The Hallowed Reading Block Rebellion: a How-to Guide for Geico-Based Learning

I'm doing PD on Saturday on a topic I agreed to on my very first day of work. Naturally, I promptly forgot about it until last month, when my main idea became "Science Star Wars." Knowing that would benefit absolutely no one, I began to write about a few books that might actually be helpful as read alouds. The following day, being the Former Teacher Who Sat Through These Stupid PDs for 6 Years that I am, I decided to address the pressing issue or Who Gives a Rat's Ass. What follows is my complete write-up including the only type of PowerPoint I could bring myself to do.


Why use stories?
--As children grow older, they are expected to “read to learn.” This is when children who already have had a difficult time reading develop a specific aversion to books. You can help this by peppering content-area material with stories to help them understand. Use stories you make up, or you can read from books that have story-like qualities

--Stories can help children begin to build schemas. You won’t have to worry about “background” because the entire class will have the same story to reflect back on, and make connections. You can encourage making connections to their own lives, too, but many times the background knowledge cannot possibly be there.

--You can incorporate your content areas into your literacy block if you need to. You can set up reading or writing stations based on the content-area books you’re reading, and your students could be studying a content area yet “doing literacy” at the same time.

Why read-aloud?
--Children can comprehend stories read to them at a higher level than they can read on their own. Reading stories aloud will bring up the comprehension level of your classroom as a whole. You won’t have to worry about who read or forgot to read the material, or whether the kids properly understood the material. Once you read aloud, you can explicitly teach using that shared experience as an example. Once again, the only way you know something has happened is if you make it happen.

When in the world am I supposed to do this?
I for one know how jam-packed a teacher’s life is. And attending professional development as much as I have, this question is always on my mind. So that’s why I say to you: you don’t have to read an entire book to your class in order for it to be effective.  Just the “choice cut”, the part you will draw from during your lesson.  And the best time to do this?
First thing in the morning.  Or right after lunch.

These are times when we’re trying to get our kids settled down, get them school-ready again. I know many teachers have a lot house-keeping to do in the morning, but then, many teachers have special areas right after lunch. Have problems with both times? Find a time that works for you. All I’m asking is fifteen minutes; and listening to a story is a relaxing activity, so you may be able to accomplish two things at once.

Now, if you’ve had anything like the classes I’ve encountered, you might be thinking, “well, what about in the winter?  They have indoor recess and are just horrible because they never leave the room.”… Change the room. Even dimming the lights and changing where you stand will work. Wear something different, like a hat or sweater. Talk softly.  Invite a guest to read at first (it always seems like they like other people more than their own teachers, don’t they?). This can become part of their routine, helping to transition them back into the school day.

So what kinds of books do I use?
There are lots of books out there that have some singular, granular component of educational possibility.
-- You could start with a place like Amazon, where users can make lists of their favorite books. I assure you there’s at least one Great books to teach ___” list for every content area, and these lists are written by teachers. But, you don’t want a whole book, right? Well, sometimes you do. Some picture books can be read in 15 minutes, and might be great!  But you don’t have to stop there, especially since many picture books star younger-aged characters.
Detroit: where your Literacy Month icon can be a lion with a shotgun
--You could start with your favorite chapter book! For instance, my favorite chapter book is Lafcadio: the Lion who Shot Back by Shel Silverstein. Not only is it an entertaining book; I used it as foundational in my second grade class to teach vocabulary (he loved the sound of the word “marshmallow”), review addition, and assess social studies and writing by reading different components of it. Revisit your favorite book and you may see something too. Additionally, kids know when you actually like the book you’re using!
--I have a list of a few books to get you started. I’ll pass them out in a minute but first here are some ideas:

Fractions=Trouble! By Claudia Mills
READ: Chapter 2 p. 19(starting at “time for fractions)-22; Chapter 6, pg 54-62 (learning numerator and denominator; remembering numerator and denominator, also visuals for problem solving). Having the children learn in the same way that William learned—with drawings of their favorite animals in groups, and using mnemonic devices that make sense to them—might help them to feel less silly, while also making their learning meaningful to them. Challenge students to think up their own way to remember that the N goes on top and the D goes on the bottom.
Also: Sideways Arithmetic at Wayside School by Louis Sachar provides many stand-alone problems to challenge students. These could be available to work as a team with if they finish class work early.

Flat Stanley Series by Jeff Brown/Sara Pennypacker (The Intrepid Canadian Adventure)
Many teachers have heard of the Flat Stanley project, which can be found on Flatter World. Flat Stanley has met celebrities, traveled the world, and there is even a Flat Stanley iPhone app for a quick picture with the guy!
Flat Stanley explores pretty much everywhere in his books, and I thought this one was particularly compelling. Being so close to Canada, it is important that children get to study that country like they do others.
READ: Chapter 5 (p. 49-63, “Mountie Martie”): introduction to the Mounted police and Canadian geography
READ:  appendix: Canada facts
With Flat Stanley tying most Social Studies lessons together, teachers can really be creative. Performance assessments could be writing a Flat Stanley story including facts about a new place, rather than “just a book report”—that way you can really discourage Wikipedia! They will be synthesizing and creative rather than just recalling. If you have a hard time fitting social studies in, this can easily be done at a special station during literacy time. Have kids who you might not want writing a whole story just yet? They can make postcards with 2 sentence/2 fact “wish you were here” stories on them.
The kids can illustrate it too, either by making their own drawings or photoshopping Stanley into photos from the Internet.
ALSO: The Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka covers many different specific times in history, such as the Revolutionary War. These books are very funny and also come as graphic novels and a TV show.

Franny K. Stein series by Jim Benton (“The Fran with Four Brains”)
In every one of the Franny K. Stein series, Franny sees a problem, comes up with a plan to fix it, and then attempts to fix it while making observations as everything blows up in her face. Though it’s not explicitly stated, you could use these books to demonstrate the scientific method.
Problem: Chapter 3-4 (She needs time to relax but her mother won’t let her)
Hypothesis:  Chapter 5 (If she makes machines that are duplicates for her, she will have more time to relax)
Observe: Chapter 8 (Positive: teachers don’t notice; Negative: Mom is now too tired with three Frannies)
Interpret Data: Chapter 9 (Franny decides the duplicates need to slow down a little)
(…as expected, the Frannibots can’t accept this and stage a coup. Franny and Igor destroy them by using their push toward excellence against them)
Conclusion:  Chapter 16 (Franny didn’t need to make three of herself; she and her mom just needed to relax)
ALSO: Encyclopedia Brown by Donald Sobol provides several mysteries in each text that take logic to solve. This could be another “once they’re done with class work” group treat.

GENRE OUTSIDE OF GENRE STUDY: Using graphic novels to enhance understanding of using dialogue to further the plot
Mo & Jo (and other books by Haspiel &Lynch):
Copy pages and white/out two bubbles that help the story along. Have the kids fill them in.
Read a few pages by just describing what is happening, leaving out the dialogue, so kids have a frame of reference. Then add in the dialogue as you point out the pictures and describe the action. Challenge them to create their own 4-frame comics, and later a story description of the action including dialogue.

If you come to our library, we are here to help you. Books can be checked out for 3 weeks at a time and can be renewed. On our catalog that is accessible online, you can even create a list of those books so that you don’t have to necessarily remember the names. Or, give us a 24 hour notice and we can point you in the right direction!


  1. I totally agree. While I teach slightly older kids, I often find that if left to read something on their own, it will not get done. We are required to have them read for 10 minutes silently each class period and then write a summary. They usually have no comprehension of what is going on. But when we read aloud, and then do the same summary, suddenly EVERYONE has something to say. Good stuff. This is very helpful advice for baby teachers like me. Keep it up!

  2. Thanks Sher! I still remember--pretty vividly-- how it felt to be a "baby teacher"... and I was a baby, 21 years old!

    I think this would fit seamlessly into that 10 minutes of silent reading if you get permission for it!

  3. Hey Bryce! I'm shopping for my school library for next year,and thought I'd look through your blog for some ideas. I'm so glad I read this article. And also a little bit jealous that you have time to write these gems. When I became a school librarian I envisioned reading a lot of books and finding ways that teachers could use them in the classroom. Haven't gotten around to doing much of that, but I do scour the internet for ideas that I can "steal" and share!
    Anyway, great job on this presentation. HOw did it go?

  4. Hi Tina! Yeah I mostly end up writing scripts/lesson plans for everything I do-- force of habit left over from being an educator; so I just copy and paste them here. Also you, know, gotta fill my days now that I'm not working full time AND going to school ;)

    The presentation went really well! There was lots of writing things down which is always a good sign, and I sent them home with a link to the presentation.

    I'm pretty lucky, I get to work with teachers way more than I thought I would! My boss is great like that.

    You're welcome to download the presentation at Slideshare and use it!