Teacher Tuesday

There are nine milliion things that amaze me about the wonderful teachers and librarians of this great county. One of those is how great teachers mesh their own unique personalities with their work. Today’s teacher-guest, Tony Keefer, provides a great example of that. His Great Books Poll is rooted in his own passion for sports. Slip into your favorite team jersey and then read on to see what I mean.

This doesn’t look like Ohio anymore!

Where do you teach?
I am a 4th grade teacher at Scottish Corners Elementary in Dublin, Ohio.  Dublin is a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.  I get to teach all the subjects.  It is sometimes difficult but I love having the same group of kids all days.  We build a great community of learners and I get to see kids who may struggle in one area, succeed in others.

Tony, here’s where we take a peek into your grade school past!

  • Favorite school lunch as a kid: Peanut Butter and Jelly, applesauce and some sort of cookie.  I didn’t eat the school lunch very often.
  • Best friend in grade school: I had lots of really good friends it would be hard to pick a best friend, but Todd Keyser lived around the corner so we were together a lot.
  • Times you were the new kid in school: I never had to be the new kid.  I grew up in a small town and we were in the same house from elementary through my sophomore year in high school.  It was a great place to grow up.
  • Teacher who inspired you to stretch: I had a few who made me work hard.  Mrs Murray in third grade was wonderful.  Mrs. Farkosovsky in middle school pushed us really hard in history.  But I think Mrs. Gedney and Mrs. Murphy, two of my high school math teachers really stretched me the most as a learner.  They both loved math so much that it made me want to love it as well.  I still love it today.  I should send them a thank you letter or something. (note from Kirby: Yes, you should.)
  • The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: Great question.  Skip school?  Seriously, I don’t know what I would have wished to achieve when I was in grade school.  School back in the 70s was pretty fun and easy as I remember it.  I do have memories of wanted to be a pro athlete, but what boy doesn’t wish that at some point.  And now that I am 43, I think I am way past my prime to make the NBA.

Now, to the main reason we’re chatting. You do something very lively in your classroom, something called the Great Books Poll. Tell us how the Great Poll works.

Love that my good friend Derek Munson’s on this list

We have this sign outside our room that announces the top books in our room.  Each week we all get 2 votes.  I tally the votes and redo the sign.   It is kind of like the college football polls that come out every week, only better because it is about books and kids are in charge. (ed: my emphasis)  The only real rule we have is the book must be one we have read fully or have heard read aloud.  It can’t be a book we are in the middle of reading or one we think will be awesome.

What motivated you to initiate this activity? How long have you been doing it?

Last year I started a March Book Madness (like the college basketball tournament) and it was a huge success.  I will do that again this spring, but I thought it would be interesting if we did something that lasted all year.  So far the response has been fun.

How do you find time to work this weekly Poll into your already full schedule?

It took me about 10 minutes to explain during the first week of school so that wasn’t hard to fit in.  It takes about a minute for the kids to write book titles on index cards each Monday to vote.  Then on Tuesday, when they see the new poll outside our room, we spend a few minutes before read aloud talking about the books on this week’s list.

How do kids respond to participating in the Poll?

So far they seem to like it.  They really like the conversation about the new list, especially if a new book appears.  This generates interest in new titles.  As the year progresses it will be interesting if the votes become tougher.  Right now most kids are still holding onto a favorite from third grade as one of their books.  I think that it cool, but it will be interesting to see as they develop as readers if this will change.

What has most surprised you about this activity?

The fact that one of the picture books I read aloud the first week of school was on the poll for two straight weeks.  It was Enemy Pie, a great story, but it was surprising to me that over half my class chose it the first week and about 6 chose it the second.  Fourth graders often times don’t want to admit they like picture books.

What kinds of skills and abilities do you see this Great Books Poll fostering in your students?

I think two biggest things will be learning to be better evaluators the of books and learning how to better recommend great books to friends.  I think they will learn if a book the love gets passed around the class that maybe other kids will love it as well.  That is already starting to happen with the graphic novel series Bone.

Would you encourage other teachers to give this a try in their classrooms?

I would. It takes little time and it allows for kids to take some ownership in championing favorite books.  Teachers do a great job of sharing great book titles with their students, but something like this that is owned by the kids may be even more powerful than what we do.

Tony, thank you so much for sharing this. One thing that occurs to me is that the Great Books Poll might be a fabulous tool to encourage kids to read outside their favorite genres. And I think it’s so rewarding to see how empowering kids enhances their passion for reading.

No Responses to “Teacher Tuesday”

  1. KatyV

    Tony, Can’t wait to share this awesome idea. Kid-ownership is powerful!