From the Office of the Future of Reading

Please join me in welcoming today’s guest blogger, Heather Maxwell. Heather is a native of Arizona and just finished her 17th year as a teacher. She currently teaches 5th grade at Litchfield Elementary school in Litchfield Park, AZ. Over the years, she has taught grades 1, 3, 4, and 5, serving as a librarian and reading specialist as well. Heather also spent 4 years as a “teacher on assignment”, which had her working with the principal and overseeing most of the discipline at her school. Heather thought that she wanted to move into administration, but after moving back into the classroom the past two years, she knows that this is where her heart belongs. Heather has been married to her high school sweetheart Silas for 16 years and they have a 12 year old daughter, Jo, who keeps them laughing and feeling young.

Heather Maxwell

Our Journey with Book Talks

This year, in my classroom, I set out with great intentions for doing regular book talks with my students. I had planned ones that I would do, of books that I had loved, but thought that my students would not really pick on their own, and I had also planned on having my students do book talks, too, sharing their favorites with their classmates.

And things really did start off well. I modeled the book talks for my students quite a few times, and introduced them to books that I thought they might enjoy, but that maybe they had never heard of. And it worked! After each book talk that I did, I would have students clamoring for the books that I introduced them to. Each week, I picked a few new titles, both from my classroom library and from our school library, and “talked” them up in my classroom. I was so excited every time I saw one of my students reading a book that I had recommended. It was exactly what I had hoped would happen!

I also spent time teaching my students what a good book talk should include….and what it shouldn’t. We talked about how to “hook” your listener and get them excited about the book, and about why it would be a bad idea to give away too much of the story. We decided to end our book talks with recommendations of who might like this book. For example, “If you loved Hatchet, then you should give this book a try.” I urged my students to practice their book talks ahead of time, and to jot down notes on note cards, if that would be helpful to them.

The first few students did okay, and a few truly followed the guidelines that I had modeled and taught to them, but mostly their book talks were either dry and boring, or they contained spoilers. I also had students arguing over who would get to book talk popular titles that many of them were reading. And, I’m embarrassed to say, that due to these issues, and also to a lack of time during the day, I slowly let student-led book talks die out. While I continued to introduce titles to them, I stopped having the students do book talks of their own.

At the end of the year, I reflected on how things went and concluded that I did not do enough to set my students up for success. I also realized that I gave up too easily, and just let it go, telling myself that we didn’t have time for it anyway. What I should have done was talk with my students about ways to make our book talks better and get their ideas on how to make time for them. In my heart, I know that getting kids to love reading is the end goal for me, and including book talks, both my own and the ones the students do, is an authentic way to instill that love of reading. I realize now that some things are just too important to let go.

Thank you Heather for sharing about both your successes and your opportunities! I am confident that your honesty and frankness is going to speak to others struggling with similar challenges.