Teacher Tuesday

A first for this blog: we’ve gone international! I am so thrilled to introduce you to Erika Victor, a grade three teacher at Berlin Brandenburg International School near Berlin, Germany in a small town called Kleinmachnow. Erika also works after school with grades three through five and it’s that after school work that she’s going to talk about today. 

First, we are going to take a peek at her past:
  •       Favorite school lunch as a kid: I wish I could remember- I know I had years when I loved PB&J and years when I hated it. I LOVED school pizza- weird, eh?
  •    Best friend in grade school: I moved after sixth grade, so friends from elementary years included Carol Pallies, Veronica Barbadoro, Sally Bridges, Karen Shupert, and Susan Pasieka. Thanks to Facebook I have reconnected with Veronica and Carol recently after 30-plus years.
  •    Times you were the new kid in school:  I was new in first grade, second grade, third grade, and finally in seventh grade.
  •     Teacher who inspired you to stretch: My third grade teacher Janet Efron remains forever in my mind. I loved her! Another star was Renie Herman, my fifth and sixth grade teacher. I remember that in fifth grade I started writing a book that I continued into sixth grade. I wish I still had that book, but I remember loving that I had the time and space to work on what I wanted. I try to keep that for my students today.
  •     The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: In third grade two boys in my class spent lots of time designing my dream house (on paper). I never got to see those houses in real life, but I really enjoyed imagining them!

Now, Erika, let’s get down to talking about ways you work to connect kids and books. You told me you’d like to talk about the after school book club you’ve started. What prompted you to start a book club? 

I started our book club as a time and place to do more of the things I always wish I had more time for during the day. Last year it was a lunch club. Kids brought their lunches to our room once a week. It was only open to third graders. This year some of those kids wanted to continue, but our lunch times did not coincide, so I now have it as an after school activity for grades 3-5.
What did you have to do to prepare? 

I keep my eyes open for book trailers, new tools to use for creating book trailers, new author/illustrator information, new books to introduce, etc. I get lots of gre
at leads from my Twitter PLN, especially @MrSchuReads and @colbysharp!
Describe what happens at the club, how books are selected, how you discuss them, etc.

We start by looking at a few book trailers and take it from there. Some weeks some students want to book talk a few books or read aloud a bit, but the time is “free” for everyone to do what they want. Some kids like to work together on book trailers or creating presentations about stories they have created (we love Animoto and Puppet Pals*). Other kids just want time to read. Between my great class library and the school library that is literally next door, they are spoiled for choice! At the end of the hour and a half we come together to share what we have done. We have so many great book discussions.
Why do you think book clubs are important? 

I think this club has let kids see that reading is cool and being part of a reading community is fun. We have started using Biblionasiumlately and that has been a great add also. The kids like that they have time to do what they want related to reading and I like that I get some kids “trained’ in tools we can also use in the classroom, so that I have many experts. I would love to add in more Skype visits with this group. We Skyped with a class for Dot Day, but have not had an author or illustrator visit with us after school yet.
What skills do you see your students gaining from such a program? 

Social skills are blossoming within this group. They come from several different classes and are happy to work with each other. I see their enthusiasm being passed on. We have a new student to our class who begged her mom to join the Junior Nerdy Book Club! Of course their reading skills are improving as they have more time to read what they love.
You mentioned ways that you’ve incorporated technology (using websites, Skype, etc) to build connections between your students and the books they’re reading. Can you talk about that?

I credit Kate Messner with my venturing into Skyping with authors. Last school year I stumbled upon her website with a list of authors who offered free Skype visits and near the end of last year we had our visit with her after reading Marty Macguire.This year we have been so lucky to meet up with a great group of authors and illustrators! I am always on the hunt for ways to connect kids with great books and this is such a beneficial way. I love that my students refer back to words of wisdom from authors we have talked to and get so excited when they know new books are coming out. We also spend time looking at author websites and follow up on connections I have made via Twitter. I love that now, when a student finds a book that s/he loves, I get asked if we can Skype with that author!
Do you have a favorite example of an author/illustator-kid exchange/interaction?

I must say honestly that every exchange that we have had has had a lasting impression. We Skyped with Ame Dyckman, author of Boy + Bot, in the first week of school and the kids were so excited to receive book swag from her as well. Kids keep passing her book on to friends and family. When we were looking at Celebridots for International Dot Day (thanks TJ Shay and Peter Reynolds) the kids got excited that Ame’s dot was the same color as her hair and asked me to send her a question about that. Of course, Ame — being fabulous– sent an answer right away, which I passed on to the kids. Other authors have had exchanges with kids in my class that have also really excited them. Authors and illustrators are our stars!
Can you give some examples of titles that work particularly well for book club? 

We ran a mock Caldecott at school and the Jr. Nerdy Book Club had their vote on the day that the results were announced (we are nine hours ahead here, so unfortunately the actual results were announced when we were at home). Books we loved included:

Would you encourage other teachers/librarians/schools to implement this activity? Why?

I think that a book club can be successful in so many different settings that everyone can find a way to make it work. This summer I am going to offer a week long Jr. Nerdy Book Club camp- we’ll see how that goes. I think sharing book love is great wherever it takes place.
What has most surprised you about after school book clubs?

I thought we would spend more time reading aloud. I actually started a longer term read aloud, but it soon became obvious that the kids had other ideas… and that was fine with me! I am also surprised that they love it so much.
What do you wish I’d asked you that I neglected to ask?
You should have asked me why I am at school during my break answering these questions (and the answer is NOT only that I am a great procrastinator!). My wifi at home is acting up so I came in to download Hattie Ever After on her book birthday to my Kindle, so that I can read it TODAY!

Aw, gee – Hattie and I both thank you for that, Erika. I certainly hope your great ideas inspire others to launch after school book clubs! I love that there seem to be so many ways to structure the clubs. Your enthusiasm has inspired me to (hint, hint) ask if I could email with your class, too! And I’m going to keep following you on
twitter: @Victortweets

*Puppet Pals is a free app, available from iTunes

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