Posts Tagged 'reading'

Book Club Provides Reprieve, Relaxation, Rejuvenation

images (2)By Elizabeth Jorgensen

Four years ago, as we enjoyed dinner, my best friend clutched her sauvignon blanc and said, “Kathy and Rachel and I are talking about forming a book club. Are you interested?”

Thinking of all the novels I wanted to read, but pushed aside for grading college essays, poems and exams, I answered, “Yes.” And with that, our group of four set out the rules: two books every two months. A rotation allowed each of us to select novels and host the event, complete with questions and discussion prompts. Some years, we met our two-books-every-two-months quota; other years, life presented challenges and we fell short. But we always start book club the same way: with an update on our lives. Then, while sharing a home-cooked meal or takeout pizza, we dive into the books and start our discussion.

We are support for each other and for our love of reading. We challenge each other and learn more about our lives and the way we enjoy literature. As the women in my book club birthed children, often a baby squirmed or slept, cradled in my arms. To our original four members, we’ve added two. And now, we rotate through the six of us, each member bringing a different viewpoint, preference and voice.

Before my book club, I read a handful of books a year, and they remained in my comfort zone. And rarely would they lead to discussion or dissection. But my book club has reminded me of the joy of reading—of connecting with a story, of experiencing another reality and of discussing themes of literature with my peers.  And now, when students or colleagues ask for book recommendations, I reference my much fuller repertoire:



The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty

The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont

Fly Away by Kristin Hannah

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls



All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline.

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Cemetery Girl by David Bell

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

After You by JoJo Moyes



We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

This is Where I leave You by Jonathan Tropper

The Winner by David Baldacci

The Light Between Oceans: A Novel by ML Stedman

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline



…and When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Identical by Ellen Hopkins

Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Tenth of December Stories by George Saunders

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple


For the Love of Reading

books-933333_960_720By Stephanie Nicoletti

Recently, I have been participating in a book club for  The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. She discusses how important it is for students to have an actual love for reading, and how teachers can instill that in their students.

When I look back at my own elementary reading experiences, I think of everyone reading the same book in a whole group setting followed by many worksheets. I often wonder how much more I would have enjoyed school if these classroom practices were NOT around:

Reading Logs: As an adult reader I never track how much or how long I read. I find time to read because I simply enjoy it. I think if we want our students to love reading and read on their own, willingly, we need to promote this in the classroom. Sure, we want to hold them accountable, but this can be done through book talks and book clubs.

“You HAVE to finish this book!”: There are so many times I have not finished a book because I simply did not like it. I remember vividly in school, even high school, being required to read and finish a novel that I hated. Children should be allowed to abandon a book when they are just not that into it. This takes tapping into student interest to make sure book abandonment doesn’t happen on the regular.

One Size Fits All: The days of a one size fits all curriculum are over with ranging levels and high achieving standards. Using one book with a class and follow up worksheets will not allow for student growth and achievement. Children are so different than they were in the past and need to be engaged all of the time. When engagement and differentiation work hand in hand, the possibilities are endless.

So what should we do? I cannot sit here and preach all of the problems in reading instruction without giving a solution. The solution is choice. This is what students want the most, let them choose the books they want to read and when. There are so many things we expect of our students that we would never do ourselves.

A Parent Toolkit for Supporting Reading at Home

12779343884_3fb3122e0a_o.jpgBy Peggy Wuenstel – Our district is in the thick of planning a community literacy event to support and encourage reading in the home. It joins the forces of our school district, the public library, and a group of community and university personnel who have formed a committee to study and advance the literacy of our city. I am by nature a doer rather than a discusser and the pace at which larger groups move often frustrates me. It is incredibly difficult to create a shared vision of what good community literacy would look like. It is even more daunting to determine, and then fulfill, the needs required to get to that goal.

In a community-wide forum in September, the group generated a list of needs as perceived by the attendees. I took that list and selected three action items that I could make happen with the support of my principal, coworkers, parents’ organization, our student council, and some community volunteers.

  • Grandreaders – Soon after the community meeting, a fellow attendee contacted me about reading with students weekly. One of the needs our teachers identified is that some students do not have a parent or caregiver that is available to consistently read and discuss books with our early readers. Two amazing retired women come each week to read with kids in 20 minute blocks, not to instruct, but to provide reading practice and share their love of books.
  • Many of our students participate in free and reduced lunch programs during the week. There has been an uptick in the number of comments from students about not having enough to eat on the weekend. This is often paired with a limited access to books in the home. We have organized an In-Out pantry to provide an anonymous way for families to receive breakfast and lunch items and age appropriate books to take home each Friday through a backpack program, supported by the generosity of our students. Kids who cannot make food or financial donations are able to earn items to donate through academic and behavioral excellence. It is tough to make literacy a family priority when physical needs are not being met.
  • We have changed the focus of our annual Family Literacy Night to reaching out to families who have not traditionally participated in the past. Changing the venue from our individual elementary schools to the public library and educating the community about the resources that are available after school hours, facilitating library card sign-ups, support for home language enrichment and book-sharing and various giveaways, including a “Milk and Bookies” wrap up from the Walworth County Dairy Council, may reach readers in new ways than in the past.

Whitewater’s business community has made offers of funding to purchase and distribute books. University drives have collected books and cash that have been placed in bins on school buses to provide the opportunity to read and take home books.  While these generous offers of financial backing are greatly appreciated, it also misses the mark. Just putting books in the hands of kids won’t spark the positive change we are seeking. We have to find a way to help make literacy a priority at home and help families feel competent in providing support.

The evidence is clear, families of all races and economic standing care deeply for their children and about their education. They vary greatly in their confidence in providing what kids need. As educators we have to make it our mission to change that, to make families feel valued in their efforts and capable in the attempt. The best books ever written are of limited use if no one shares the joy between their covers.

These are some of the tools we’d like to provide for kids and families at our upcoming literacy event:

  • How to use conversation and vocabulary with our children to maximize their success in school.
  • Why reading with a child is even more valuable than reading to a child or having a child read to you.
  • The places we read matter — lap sit, snuggled up, knee to knee and shoulder to shoulder –and this contact helps to create lifelong skills and bonds around books.
  • Making life-to-text connections makes books come alive. People want to read about things they know and places they have been, and we dream of exploring the places and activities that we have read about in books.
  • Decoding words is not everything. Parents benefit from knowing what emerging reading looks and sounds like and what to expect as grade level expectations rise.
  • Harnessing the power of pause and understanding that strategy use, interruptions and re-reading can be very good things, helps everyone relax and enjoy the ride.
  • There are things we can do to build stamina and perseverance. When we help kids revise and reward and prompt their use of strategies we build resilience, self-reliance and self-esteem.
  • There are many ways to take advantage of the reading and writing we do every day to build literacy minutes. We read signs, on-line, manuals and recipes. We write lists, directions and love notes. Parents inspire and model success when kids see them reading and writing, especially when they are enjoying it.
  • There are fun and efficient ways to read together, write together and practice basic skills.
  • Community literacy should be important to everyone and there are no more important voices than those of parents who love their children and are building successful, literate futures.

My Novel Resolution

6718320547_315a1ae173_oBy Kay Howell – Over the holiday break, I rediscovered a lost love: reading.

As a child, I was the quintessential bookworm, including the giant spectacles and a ruthless avoidance of social interaction. Every Tuesday afternoon, my mom took me and my sister to our local public library. This was, without a doubt, the highlight of my week. My mom insisted that we check out more than just The Baby-Sitters Club novels, so I had a steady and varied literary diet. Tuesday afternoons were full of promise, and Tuesday night was the best time of week: I had an armful of new books, just waiting to be opened.

Fast-forward to fall semester: I went to the library almost every day. But rather than bursting through the doors with expectation and exuberance, mine was the slow march of the reluctant student about the spend eight hours doing homework on an otherwise perfectly lovely Saturday. When I finally had some time away from my textbooks, the last thing I wanted to do was spend even one minute more in the company of the written word. Needless to say, my Netflix account got a good deal of use—while my library card stayed shoved in the back of my wallet. Yet despite reading every day for my classes, I had a nagging feeling in the back of my head that something was just missing from my life.

The day after I submitted my final paper, I trekked over to the new East Branch of the Milwaukee Public Library with a mission: check out a book, any book, and read it just for kicks. I won’t disclose what I settled on, but the first book I read over break had cover art featuring a very large red cherry. It definitely met the requirement of completely enjoyable brain candy, and I absolutely loved every page of it. Over the next few weeks, I made my way through several other novels, and rediscovered the joy and relaxation of simply reading for fun.

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, mostly because I lack willpower and stamina. But this year, I made myself a promise for the spring semester: pick up a new novel at the library every few weeks, and read purely for pleasure. Of course, I’ll still spend my Saturdays in the library studying, and my Netflix account will still get more use than I would ever admit to my mother, but I know that reading for fun is something I need in my life. So if you see me in the library this semester, check and see what book I’m reading—you just may be surprised!

Wait, Am I a Social Studies Teacher or Reading Teacher?: Part One

32936701By Bill Waychunas – Sorry to burst your bubble, but the truth is that you are both. Say what you will about the added emphasis on reading in the Common Core or standardized testing and the narrowing of curriculum, but the fact of the matter is that more and more social studies teachers are finding themselves in positions where they are being asked to tread into the mostly unfamiliar territory of reading instruction. Personally, I have no problem with this transition, as I find it hard to believe that any student could be a successful history student without also being a successful reader.

Several years ago, I began teaching at a school that asked me to be more thoughtful and accountable for reading results than I ever had been before. I wasn’t completely unprepared for this mission, as it mirrored some of my personal views of teaching social studies, but I would be lying if I told you that I was ready to successfully “marry” social studies content with reading instruction. This is especially challenging when students come in with a wide range of reading abilities, as many students do when working in a low-income area.

After much struggle, frustration and eventually triumph, I’m happy to share with you my bits of advice for differentiating reading instruction in a social studies classroom.

  1. Independent Reading isn’t just for Elementary students!

You can force kids to read as much as you want in class, but since reading is all about practice, students won’t become good readers until they want to read. Creating this thirst for reading isn’t always easy to do but will serve students in the long run if they become life-long readers. This is why in my class the first 10 minutes is dedicated to independent reading where students get to choose a book, magazine, or newspaper on their own to get them hooked on reading. (Side note: This is also a great time to check students’ homework and take attendance!)

  1. Reading aloud to students also isn’t just for Elementary School either

Skip the carpet squares and gathering around the teacher…It turns out that high school students don’t like sitting on the floor. When I first started teaching, I thought that reading aloud to students was somehow “above me” as a secondary teacher. Truth be told, reading aloud to students is an excellent way for them to be exposed to new vocabulary words which they have never heard before (look into the 30 million word gap) and also can help with fluency, especially if you have student read it back to you or their partner. This is why I will oftentimes record myself or a guest celebrity teacher from my school’s staff, to read a passage that I play for students. In this way they can hear and see text while they annotate, and I can monitor and assess their understanding through informal observations. This brings me to my next revelation…

  1. Don’t assume that students know how to interact with texts!

As adult readers, we interact with the text naturally through practice. In our heads, we use two voices when we read: one voice recites the text, the other has a conversation with the text. That second voice may ask questions, make connections, self-monitor for comprehension, react with emotions, or alert us when we come across an unfamiliar word.

Students need explicit instruction and modeling of these strategies in order to “activate” that voice in their head that interacts with the text. Close readings are great for this, but in order to get kids to naturally do this as they read, the literature teacher at my school and I developed a sticky-note system where kids stop as they interact with a text and record it in a format that we taught them at the beginning of the year. Currently, we have our students interact with the text by asking questions, making connections, visualizing, describing their mood, determining meaning of difficult Vocabulary, identifying Important Information, and paraphrasing difficult portions of text with a strategy we call the “Help Button.”

  1. Give students lots of practice with texts “at their level!”

While textbooks form the backbone of most social studies classrooms, we need to be wary of their reading levels as they tend to be especially difficult to students due to their highly challenging, content-specific vocabulary. Putting a high-school level textbook in front of a high schooler who struggles with reading and has probably had a bad relationship with social studies classes in the past is a recipe for disaster. Not being able to read the content leads to frustration, which can lead to a number of usually negative reactions that will drive a teacher bananas.

Some teachers will criticize this as “dumbing down” the curriculum, but I would argue against that notion in two ways. One, your job as a teacher is to teach the students in front of you, not the lofty idea of where you think they should be. Two, does it really matter how your student learns your content? For example, if I give two students different passages about the causes of the Civil War, one at a 4th grade reading level and the other at a 9th grade level, is it more important that they understand the causes of the Civil War or that both of them get the same assignment? I think you know where I would stand on that issue.

Anyways, to ensure that you are reaching kids on their level, assess your students reading levels early in the year and adjust the materials that you give them based on their performance. Some good assessments to use include the Scholastic SRI which will give you Lexile scores, the STAR reading tests available through Renaissance Learning, or, if school budgets are a problem, some practice ACT reading exams. I like to group my students based on several of these data points and assign readings that are around each group’s reading level. I’ve found this to be especially helpful when assigning homework, as students need to be able to access materials on their own which then allows me to up the rigor (and support) for readings we do in class.

I’ve named my reading groups Red, White, and Blue, of course. While they all might be reading about symbolic free speech through case summaries of Tinker v. Des Moines, they all are getting readings at different degrees of difficulty. Achieving this requires either a plethora of widely ranging materials or the ability to modify to meet student reading needs.

Modifying for reading level is easier said than done, but there are some simple short cuts that you can take advantage of. The first step is to get yourself some different textbooks at different levels. U.S. history textbooks are available on Amazon for elementary school classrooms or middle school classrooms. If I’m teaching a certain topic, I may assign the chapter from the elementary textbook to my lowest readers, the high school book to my proficient or advanced students, and the middle school text to my students that are only slightly behind. The result: students that are getting reading practice at their level, content knowledge that can be used for more fun social studies activities such as projects, and a teacher that doesn’t have to deal with students that are frustrated by the text.

For current events, I use an amazing website ( which takes newspaper articles and modifies them for you at different Lexile levels. The readings are even searchable and many come with pre-made quizzes. Best of all, the site is FREE!

For texts that you find online or have in a word document, modifying text yourself is easy to do. To check reading levels of texts which I can copy/paste, I like to use the website There are plenty of other free websites out there and a quick google search for “free text analyzer” should point you in the right direction. When modifying text down to student reading levels, keep a few key points in mind. Shorten the sentences. Simplify the vocabulary words. Add text features like pictures, headings, subheadings, and vocabulary definitions in captions.  When you’ve finished, paste the modified text into the text analyzer and see if you’ve gotten to the level where your students will be able to access and understand.


Congrats! You’ve just passed Part One of how to be both a social studies and reading teacher. I hope you will join me next month as I discuss further topics such as vocabulary instruction, in-class reading methods, creating book nerds, blending content and reading in assessments, and finding ways to engage students with text.

Windows and Mirrors: Two Views for Readers


By Peggy Wuenstel – Reading is a complex process that needs to be learned and nurtured. Most people can identify the key components of recognizing letters, understanding the relationships between letters and sounds, developing skills such as blending and segmenting sounds, and knowing the key elements of how print works in their literary environment. Globally, we don’t all read left to right, top to bottom, or with symbols that represent sounds. What we sometimes forget is that our literacy starts in the brain and not on the page.

Writing, and its companion, reading to decode that writing, are our attempts to put our ideas on paper, to preserve them for posterity, and share to them with the larger world. It is the way that students can express their content mastery to teachers, by which lovers convey their deepest unspoken feelings, and activists and social commentators call others to action. Therein lies the problem – the ideas generate the words. What happens when the experience base is limited, the interests are narrow, or the motivation to know more is absent? Reading and writing are then a chore, not the joy that every teacher hopes to give to a child.

I cannot appropriately credit the person that put me on this path to thinking about reading and writing instruction. I heard this wise person toss off a statement that children need windows and mirrors in what they are offered. He or she was referring to the content of what we offer students to read. This is an important issue on many fronts. Gender equality, racial diversity, socio-economic differences and the varied cultural and societal backgrounds of our students must all be considered and factored in when we design lessons, assign reading lists, and conduct assessments. The mirror aspect requires us to select literature and non-fiction materials in which the child can either see or envision themselves interacting. I need characters that look like me, think like me, feel like me and behave like me for me to understand what an author has in mind.

Much has been made of how national assessments do not equally reflect all of our students, and that this may partially explain performance gaps among certain segments of our classroom populations. By thoughtful, sensitive instruction we lead readers to broader understandings of others, compassion for those who are different and paradoxically a stronger sense of ourselves when we learn about the “other”.

In addition, the use of the mirror metaphor calls us to do something that is critical to learning and to teaching. We must continually reflect on what we see and determine how to proceed from this point forward. And the images that are important are not just the ones of ourselves. The setting in which we find ourselves and our students, the level of illumination we provide, the clutter in the background, the change or lack of change over time are all things worthy of note for the reflective teacher. Whether we journal or just keep these things clearly in mind, reflection is a crucial piece in modern teaching, and something we must model for our students. It is also necessary that we advocate for the time to reflect with legislators, administrators and policy makers. If we are running as fast as we can just to deliver content, the reflection that makes it true learning rarely occurs.

It is also a key role of literacy instruction to provide windows to the world. Those who have unlocked the code for reading and writing have an amazing passport to places, things, and relationships they will never experience directly. Some of the most gratifying experiences that an instructor can have are when a child is transported by a book and wants to take you along on that journey. Our ability to steer developing readers into new genres, to meet new authors, and to encourage deeper dives into content of high interest is one of the greatest gifts we offer to those in our charge. Finding that student who will truly appreciate the key books of our past is a gift to us as teachers and as readers.

I love the concept of “Book Love.” When you like someone, and you give them a book that you think they would like, it is based on your knowledge of them and your shared history. It is rare to find a connection deeper than that. I knew I had succeeded in passing this on to another generation when my grandchildren started asking “What book did you bring us?” at each visit. One caveat, however, is to make sure that readers (and writers) don’t get “stuck”, reading the same genre, author, or topic over and over again. Even mirrors can have many faces, and our reading habits should as well.

I have expanded this kind of thinking to include the writing process. Writers also need to look through windows and into mirrors to generate the ideas, words, and writing pieces that display their feelings, their questions, and their skills. We are a society that loves to measure things, and it is very difficult to measure this foundation-laying aspect of writing and teaching, so often we skip over it to getting things on or off the page depending on which part of the lesson plan we are addressing. For our youngest students and for those of differing cultural or linguistic backgrounds, engaging topic selection is key.

Many famous authors have been quoted giving the advice, “Write what you know.” For developing writers I would add, “Write what you want to know.” Check your reflection in the mirror, get inspiration from looking out your window, and go!

Slipping Between the Cracks

rasp 001By Cecilia Ware — For the past few weeks in my field placement, I have had the opportunity to work with a student who I consider to be at an extreme disadvantage in the classroom, and this is by no fault of her own.

A couple weeks ago, my cooperating teacher suggested to me that I work with this girl one-on-one for an activity, because she could not read very well. This student was initially very reluctant to work with me, she became very uncomfortable and standoffish when I asked her to be my partner. This student is one of the very few well behaved, she is always quiet as a mouse in class. When we finally set to work on the activity, I asked her to read the first paragraph in the text aloud to me. She got past the word “the”, and immediately clammed up.

I figured she was shy and/or embarrassed because she could not pronounce all the words well, so I read along with her and we sounded them out together. She barely spoke above a whisper and was extremely edgy, and getting work done was like pulling teeth; it took forever. Finally, when I asked her if she understood the questions for the activity, she stared down at her paper and shook her head. It was at this point that it dawned on me, she doesn’t just have difficulty reading, she can’t read at all!

Since that day, I have spent much more time with this student, I even got to help her take a test. She has become much more comfortable working and talking with me, and has begun to ask more and more questions in her search for meaning behind words. Regardless, she is so far behind the rest of the class, it seems practically impossible to get her on the same track as her peers.

This frustrates me and has me wondering, how on earth did this student make it all the way to sixth grade without having any idea how to read? How could she possibly have passed any classes prior to sixth grade??

The conclusion that I have come to is that this girl has somehow managed to slip through the cracks every year, just barely getting by because teachers just pass her along and couldn’t be bothered to deal with her or– God forbid — do their jobs and teach her. I find it quite frustrating that this poor girl, along with many other students I’m sure, has been struggling to get by because her blaring hindrance has been overlooked and ignored for years. In all fairness, this student has in no way received the education she has a right to, and is the product of highly insufficient teaching.

Every teacher who has had her in their class up until sixth grade (where her teacher has finally recognized and taken action on the issue) has failed in their duty as an educator by passing her along, knowing the essential skill she lacked and not providing her with the tools to alter the situation. I will continue to work with her, and hope to contribute the most I can to her growth in the classroom and her reading ability. Stay tuned, I’ll be sure to keep you updated on our progress!

What is a Marquette Educator?

Follow us on Twitter