Teacher Tuesday

Today’s post is from the very thoughtful, Carmen Gordillo, a seventh and eighth teacher in the northeast part of the country. I’m excited to share Carmen’s thoughts because I haven’t interviewed as many middle school teachers and librarians as I have elementary. So let’s dive in!
Here’s Carmen thinking about which book to read first

Favorite school lunch as a kid: If you asked my mother this question she would tell you I did not like anything. I was a skinny kid who did not have much of an appetite. I did not like the Spanish food my mom cooked. I love and appreciate it now!
Best friend in grade school: Maria Elena was my best friend in elementary school. When I think of her I remember: Chinese jump rope…our love of Rocky movies…getting over my fear of dogs (She had a pit bull and Doberman!). She was a loyal friend and our families were always close. She now lives in FL and we recently reconnected.
Times you were the new kid in school:  I was new in 1st grade when my family moved to NJ from N.Y.C. and in 4th grade when I transferred to a parochial school from the local public school.
Teacher that inspired you to stretch: I remember my fourth grade teacher introduced me to chapter books by Beverly Cleary. I was overwhelmed at first by the amount of pages, but when I started reading them I fell in love and did not notice the length because I got so into the books.
The one thing you always wished you would have done in grade school but never achieved: I wish I had kept my writing projects from elementary school. I would love to read what I wrote back then!  I remember one of my teachers read a story I wrote about my beagle, Rocky, aloud to the class. I recall the class laughing at certain parts. I did keep my old diary collection. I started writing in a diary at the age of nine.

Thanks for sharing about yourself as a young student, Carmen. Now let’s shift gears and talk about your middle school teaching experiences. You told me you’d like to talk about helping middle school students choose books for independent reading. What prompted your thinking about that?

Having students choose their own books to read independently is an important piece that is often overlooked in curriculums. I find that many schools focus on data, testing, and new standards.  However, if they are not having students reading independently they are missing the mark. Students should be given the opportunity to choose books based on their interest.  They need time to read these books. Reading research suggests for kids to read for at least two hours throughout the school day.  It’s like if you want someone to be a good swimmer and pass a swimming test you need to have this person in the pool practicing how to swim.  In reality you want the person to be a good swimmer for life, not just pass a test.  Let’s get our students in the pool!
What are the biggest challenges you see for students trying to make their own reading selections?

Some of my students have a difficult time selecting books because they do not have the experience or knowledge of different books or authors. I make sure to have “book talks” to introduce various books and genres to my students. In addition, when we are in the library I make it a point to have conversations about books one-on-one with my students as they are browsing through the shelves.
I have an image of my own kids when they were in middle school – great readers, but not that interested in Mom’s suggestions. How do you overcome such resistance?

The best advice I could give parents is to focus on your child’s interest and choose reading material together based on this first. Parents and kids should visit bookstores and libraries together. It is also important to set aside reading time at home too.
Why does it matter that kids make good independent reading selections?

It matters for kids to make good independent reading choices because then they will be engaged in the book and actually read it. In her new book, Book Love, Penny Kittle discusses how many kids practice “fake reading.” This is when students just look at the pages and flip through the book without really reading it. This is an indication that they have not found the right book. Middle school students need to have reading mentors. It is important for teachers to read current children’s literature so they could make recommendations to their students and guide them to pick the right books.
What skills do you see your students gaining from making solid choices? From independent reading?

When students are reading independently on an ongoing basis they are able to apply the strategies taught in class. There is also a huge difference in the amount of words a reader acquires by reading daily in comparison to a nonreader. It’s plain and simple: people get better at reading by reading!
Are there ways you’ve incorporated technology (using websites, Skype, etc) to build connections between your students and the books they’re reading? 

Yes! Incorporating technology is one of my favorite parts of teaching in the 21stcentury. It brings a new energy into the classroom and kids look forward to it. One of my favorite activities is browsing through author’s websites and twitter accounts on the SMART board based on my students’ questions. Additionally, my students create their own blogs where they include posts about the books they are reading and topics they have researched. There is a different level of accountability because they know they are writing for a bigger audience.  They can also respond to each other and this helps build a community in the classroom. Another technology tool I use is Edmodo, which is like an educational Facebook. In addition to blogging on this site I can attach assignments, articles, and create polls (there are many other features too). The kids enjoy going on this site because they are familiar with the format and it is another great way to share their learning and thoughts about books.
Can you give some examples of titles that work particularly well for your middle schoolers?

I am reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio to my seventh graders. It is about a lovable boy, August, who has facial deformities and starts middle school for the first time. My students love this book! They beg me to read it every day. Some of my students asked our library media specialist to order it so they could read it on their own. 

Some of my eighth grade boys have expressed that The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton is the first book they have read on their own. It is a classic, but goody. 

The themes of family, friendship, and class warfare resonate with them. I find it is rewarding when these same students request to read other books by S.E. Hinton. This is important because then they could start building a reading life.

Thank you, Carmen, for sharing your thoughts today. I love that line about getting kids into the pool! I’m guessing there are a lot of other teachers out there eager to find ways to encourage students to read independently and you’ve certainly provided great food for thought.