What I'm Reading & Teaching in October

October 06, 2021

After a choppy start, I'm settling into routines with my classes: independent reading, choice writing, our first unit, and soon our whole class novel.

After a choppy start (we didn't have a full five day week of school until the fourth week of school), I finally feel like I'm settling into routines with my classes. What I'm most excited about this school year is how many students are excited about reading. Independent reading is now part of our daily routine at the start of class (I struggled to commit to that this year, but the start of class is what works best for me and the flow of my lessons). I have a variety of strategies I'm using to read the excitement of reading high and expose students to books from our classroom library they might want to read next. I am also slowly working toward my goal of connecting our independent reading with grammar and writing instruction, so far with great success.

Reading in October
This month I finally hit my reading slow down, although in fairness, two of the books I read were 500+ pages. I read four physical books (three young adult and one middle grade) and the other five were audiobooks (all middle grade). With students settling into our independent reading routine, I'm hoping to be able to get some reading in during the school day. I'm just two books away of meeting my goal of 104 books for the year 

After a choppy start, I'm settling into routines with my classes: independent reading, choice writing, our first unit,

Here's what I read in September:
1. Wild Tongues Can't Be Tamed: 15 Voices from the Latinx Diaspora edited by Saraciea J. Fennell (young adult short story anthology)
2. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (young adult)
3. Supernova by Marissa Meyer (young adult)
4. Roll With It by Jamie Sumner (middle grade)
5. Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (middle grade)
6. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim (middle grade)
7. Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander (middle grade)
8. I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day (middle grade)
9. Goldie Vance Vol. 2 by Hope Larson (middle grade)

For this month I'm again keeping my expectations low and focusing on middle grade titles from my classroom library, so I can keep book talking with my students.

After a choppy start, I'm settling into routines with my classes: independent reading, choice writing, our first unit,

Here's what I'm hoping to read in October:
1. Kingdom of Secrets by Christyne Morrell (middle grade)
2. The Racers: How an Outcast Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Challenged Hitler's Best by Neal Bascomb (middle grade)
3. Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle (middle grade)
4. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (middle grade)
5. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (middle grade)
6. Everything Within And In Between by Nikki Barthelmess (young adult)
7. The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz (middle grade)
8. Moo by Sharon Creech (middle grade)

Teaching in October
We are now well into our first unit of the year "Animal Intelligence." After kicking off the unit with a fun read, "The Mixer" by P. G. Wodehouse, students have read a series of nonfiction texts about the intelligence of animals from our Collections anthology: "Animal Snoops: The Wondrous World of Animal Spies," "Can Animals Feel and Think?", and "How Smart Are Animals?". We'll read one more short text  that ties into the unit's theme, a poem titled "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop. I added this piece in so that we'd have a piece of poetry in the unit and as place to introduce the skill of theme earlier in the year. Theme is one of those higher level skills that sixth grade students (and older) struggle with. We'll revisit the skill of theme in our upcoming whole class novel Pax by Sara Pennypacker.

Before we get into that novel, our culminating activity of our nonfiction readings will be a debate. I first tried out a debate as an alternative to writing an argumentative essay two years ago and the timing of it worked out so that our debate took place on the last two days before school closed due to coronavirus. Attendance was low and though it went well overall, students weren't at their best. I tried it again last year during virtual teaching and it was a complete success. Students loved it and asked if we could do another one! I'm looking forward to doing it in person with a full class. Students began building their public speaking skills during a short presentation connected to our reading of "Animal Snoops: The Wondrous World of Animal Spies."

This is my fourth time teaching this unit and I am really pleased with the number of supports I've built for struggling readers and writers as well as the number of creative activities and assessments. In addition to the numerous graphic organizers I've created over the years for these readings, one of the supports I've added this year is reading comprehension checks. I use Google Forms to ask a series of basic comprehension questions related to the text we're reading. The Forms are self grading and offer students instant feedback on their understanding of key events or ideas. As far as bringing in the fun, for "The Mixer" we did a question trail, with "Animal Snoops: The Wondrous World of Animal Spies" we did mini research presentations on animals from the reading, just this past week with "How Smart Are Animals?" we created mind maps, next week with "The Fish" we'll try out one pagers, and the following week, we'll have the debate. These activities allow students to be creative in different ways and develops different skill sets (referring back to the text, research and public speaking skills, note taking, appealing visual design, and persuasion).

My next big task will be planning out our novel unit for Pax. Last year was my first year teaching the novel and the Pax hyperdoc developed and generously shared by teachers Nicole Beardsley, Jennifer Diaz, Heather Marshall, and Kimberlie McDonald was a life saver. I use and adapted so many of their ideas. During this unit is when my school shift from virtual learning four days a week instead of five, so I'm looking forward to doing even more with the novel this year.

Each time we read a novel, I create a reading calendar that I share with students and parents. Since we'll read this as a whole class novel and it is our first novel of the year (later novels will involve choices), we do some reading together in class and students will do some of the reading on their own. I will still give students at least 10 minutes of independent reading time each day and it will be their choice whether they read Pax then or a novel of their choosing. Since we're in school day five days a week, my first step will be to plan out a new reading calendar of what chapters we'll be reading each day. Then I'll look at the resources I used last year to review what worked, what didn't, and where I have room to add additional lessons.

Throughout our "Animal Intelligence" unit, which includes Pax, students are constantly reading and about every other week, we practice the structure of writing a text dependent analysis essay. We start small, with just an introduction paragraph and one body paragraph. Much of it is done together with whole group modeling or in small groups at first to build students confidence, and by the end of Pax, they are ready to write their first full essay with lots of support throughout the process for me, but ultimately each student crafts their own essay. You can read more about my process for teaching text dependent analysis writing here and find resources here.

We are also working on grammar and writing skills in more personal pieces of choice writing following the ideas in Jeff Anderson's Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style Into Writer's Workshop and other inspiration from Linda Christensen's Teaching For Joy and Justice and Reading, Writing, and Rising Up. After starting the year with "Where I'm From" poems and a review of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, we're moving into what makes a sentence. I'm using a section of Kwame Alexander's verse novel The Crossover as a mentor text as well as a poem, "Snow Fell" by Tommy Tomlinson. we'll use these as models for our own writing piece composed of two word sentences. This will be a new assignment for me so I'm excited to see how it turns out. 

After a choppy start, I'm settling into routines with my classes: independent reading, choice writing, our first unit, and soon our whole class novel.

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