Tagged: ninth graders

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TEACHER VOICES: Shannon Jin-a Lamborn

Sustained Silent Reading Works

Two of my students with respective volumes of March, a graphic memoir about the civil rights movement, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.

Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) works because it provides both a mirror and a window for our young people. Reading is a mirror as it allows young people to learn more about themselves. It is also a window as it provides young people with access to cultures, lifestyles, norms, and communities outside their own.

In addition to building mindfulness and empathy, SSR builds skills. Regular reading increases knowledge of vocabulary and grammar and there’s loads of assessment data to back that up!

While SSR is one of my most valued components of my curriculum now, it wasn’t something that I have always felt strongly about. I initially implemented SSR because my coach, Mark, recommended I do so. I was hesitant to dedicate so much time to what I feared would amount to wasted hours of fake reading.

At the beginning of last year, SSR was one of the most annoying routines to facilitate. Students would pick a book at random off a shelf, open it, and stare blankly at the pages in an attempt to skirt any consequence for being off task or disruptive. They groaned every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and ravished any opportunity to voice their discontent with me and with reading. Commonplace student feedback on SSR included remarks such as: “This book is trash,” “When is this over?” and “Can I go to the bathroom?”

By spring semester, my students and I had transformed SSR into an oasis of comfort, calm, and joy. It would take less than a minute for the classroom to fall silent as students quickly became enveloped in their respective worlds of choice. I would often have to coax students out of their books and back into the world of the classroom.

“This book is actually lit!” – on Buck: A Memoir, by M.K. Asante.

To make SSR successful you need to do five things:

1. Genuinely believe in the power of SSR.

Joy and excitement are contagious and so is a love of reading. Communicate why and how you got into reading. Model how seriously you take SSR by norming that everyone who enters your class during SSR should be reading, adults included.

2. Name your purpose.

What do you want your students to get out of reading? Explicitly identify, name, and share your purpose with your students. Then create structures that allow y’all to work towards that aim.

3. Build a robust library.

Have you ever read something you weren’t into? Yes? Me too and it sucks! I like to tell my young people that there are too many books in the world to be wasting time choosing SSR books you don’t enjoy. Yes it’s important to be able to read things you don’t like but SSR is about choice.

Do research by talking to peers, students, and checking out recommended reading lists from websites such as: Buzzfeed, Goodreads, NPR, and the Young Adult Library Association. Make a social media post asking people to share the most influential books from their teenage years. Then, if you haven’t already done so, make a DonorsChoose account and start raking in those donations! Regularly have a project on DonorsChoose and routinely introduce new books into your classroom. Prioritize having multiple (I like three) copies of fewer, super awesome books over less access with more selection.

Given a Secret Scholar Award, this student would literally lol during the funny bits of books.

4. Nurture student relationships.

When students aren’t reading, make a point to ask students what they’ve read and enjoyed and what they’ve hated. Ask them to consider if there are any patterns there. If they’ve never read a book they’ve enjoyed, ask them about their interests or favorite television shows. Once you know your students as readers, it will become much easier to recommend books or connect students with similar reading interests to recommend books to each other!

5. Have a plan to get your books back.

At the end of the year I got over eighty books back – yes eighty! I did this by creating a public project to “Rescue Ms. L’s Library!” and publicly tracking the number of books returned. Personal incentives included extra credit points and a raffle towards new books. Classes were also in competition with each other to return the most books in exchange for snacks.

“This is a great book! It shows how gamers can be girls and is colorful.” – on In Real Life, a graphic novel by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang.

I really, truly believe in the power of SSR. In the last weeks of school, I witnessed a magical moment. Three of my boys who used to hate reading were talking about the books they were reading and how cool they all were. One was reading Sherman Alexie’s Flight, another Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang’s In Real Life, and the third was reading Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost. These boys were so excited to share their knowledge of the plot and characters in these books that I actually started crying tears of joy! The seed had been planted, my students are readers.

In community,

Shannon Jin-a Yi-Lamborn

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TEACHER VOICES: Marni Spitz, #3

Numbers, Reading, the Jackson 5, and Awesomeness

ms. spitz 4Ed. note: Marni Spitz teaches U.S. History and Reading Lab at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco. This is her third post for TEACHER VOICES. Donate to Marni’s classroom!

favicon Numbers. I love numbers. They mean so much. They can mean good luck, dates of birthdays, years of anniversaries, and how many spoonfuls of sugar you need in order to make the best chocolate chip cookies ever. So to all those number-loving educators, I, a Humanities teacher, salute you!

Numbers come up a lot in my U.S. History and Reading Lab classes. They teach us so much! Question: When was the Declaration of Independence signed? Answer: 1776! (a number!) Question:  What resolved the debate over the representation of slaves in the House of Representatives? Answer: 3/5th Compromise (another number! a fraction at that!)

In Reading Lab, a new class we’re piloting with our ninth graders this year, numbers are coming up all the time. Some insight: I use numbers to track my students’ pages on their independent reading books each day. My students use numbers to find quotes for their metacognition journals. We use numbers to set goals for reading and to chunk our reading.

But perhaps the best number of all so far has been the number of books students are finishing. That’s right. My Reading Lab-ers are voraciously reading and FINISHING their books. It’s honestly incredible!


After FIVE days of class (five, another great number: high fives! Five Guys Burgers! Five Spice Girls!), THREE of my students had already finished their books! THREE out of FIFTEEN in ONE week! The next week, there were another THREE, and the following week, FOUR more! By week six, ELEVEN out of FIFTEEN (that’s 11/15 for all you fraction lovers!) had finished a book. Some students have even finished more than ONE book!

I know that you’re thinking: But we’re only in week SEVEN! And your students are in a reading intervention class! I thought they don’t even like reading! How the heck is this happening?!?  Well guys, I don’t have a scientific explanation just yet, but I have spent some time pondering this incredible phenomenon. Here’s what I’ve come up with as to why my Reading Lab-ers are finishing books with Usain Bolt speed:

(FYI, these are in no particular order as I am not here to make numbers feel above/below each other. Hahahahaha — get it? I crack myself up.)

1. Our kids have access to AWESOME BOOKS!!! SO SO SO MANY AWESOME BOOKS!

If I do say so myself, my classroom library is amazing! We’re talking Beyonce dance moves amazing. This has everything to do with the books on the shelves and very little to do with me (although I love to take credit). With the help of my literacy coach (I’m talking about you, Mark!), DonorsChoose.com, and our charter network’s commitment to books, my classroom library is rich in variety of genre and level. And…the books are so new and so so pretty! Sure, we know that in most instances, looks don’t matter, but whoever said not to judge a book by it’s cover hasn’t worked with a group of struggling teenage readers.

2. I KNOW my classroom library like Indiana Jones knows how to rock cargo.

My first year with a classroom library was wonderful, but I had never read most of the books in it, nor had I beared witness to the effects each book had on its readership. As my library continues to grow, the more familiar I am with the heavy hitters. (For example: Perfect Chemistry will win every time! The Bluford series is a gem for confidence-boosting! You liked Dope Sick? I think you’d love Tyrell!). My librarian skills have really picked up and I am developing a niche for being a book-student matchmaker. My Grandma would be so proud!

perfect chemistry

I also spent a lot of time reorganizing my library this summer so that I can navigate my shelves with the grace and stamina of Michael Jordan. Just call me #23. (There I go with the numbers again).  Something as simple as knowing where the books are has made the book-student matching process far more effective! I can quickly direct a student to the “Fight The Man!” bins on the left, the “Back in the Day” bins in the middle, and the “Ulysses” bins on the top shelf. (Okay fine, we’re not quite there yet, but we’ll get there!)

3. The students are reading their books in a lot of their classes. A LOT.

They’re reading in English. They’re reading in Advisory. They’re reading in Math. They’re reading in Biology. My reading Lab-ers are getting so much time to read their books at school, thanks to the incredible commitment of the ninth grade team!!  When asked about reading at home, most of my students said that no, they didn’t read at home and never really had. At this point in the school year, whether or not my kiddos are reading their books at home is still unclear, but what is clear is that structured and routinized reading is happening in multiple classes.

Having their independent book with them is as essential as their pens, binders, and enthusiasm. Words cannot express what a joy it is to walk in the hallways during my prep, eat my snack (that’s what preps are for right?), and peek into ninth grade classrooms and see them reading. You can just FEEL the pages turning!

4. Reading is part of ninth grade culture!

It’s alive! It’s alive! (And, unlike Frankenstein, it’s far from terrifying. In fact, it’s arguably the most beautiful thing ever.) It’s alive in the hallways (student book reviews!), in signs on teachers’ front doors (Ms. Y is currently reading…), in passing conversation (“Have you read A Child Called It yet?”), when work is done early (“Done with your quiz? Open up yo’ book!”), in a grade-wide competition (Which advisory can read the most books?), and of course, on the ‘ole faithful bulletin boards. Finishing books is a thing! It’s a real thing that lives and breathes alongside the ninth grade experience. INCREDIBLE!

dope sick

5. We spend time previewing the books!

Call me crazy (not maybe), but I love previews! They get me pumped! Similarly, this year we spent two full days surveying and previewing the books. I may or may not have done some pretty fantastic book pitches, and I made sure to play the “EVERYONE-who’s-ever-read-this book-has-LOVED-it” card to really hone in on that peer pressure. A gallery walk of the books gave our growing readers a chance to familiarize themselves with the steps and value of the selection process. Every student but one selected a book they liked on their first go around. How’s that for numbers?

6. We celebrate finishing a book like we just won tickets to a Prince concert!

Never underestimate the power of a round of applause accompanied by a photo. Just last week, a student finished a book, and the class’s applause was super weak. He demanded we do it again. Heck yeah, Sergio: Get yours!  Quantifying reading can be tricky, but I think that the number of finished books can provide some priceless insight on so many factors:

– Are students actually reading during SSR? (You bet!)
– Do you have enjoyable books in your library? (No doubt!)
– Are students reading outside of your class allotted SSR? (For real!)
– Do you need more copies of a certain book? (YES! ALWAYS!)
– Do student book requests work? (Why yes! They most certainly do!!)
– How are your students feeling about reading in general? (They get it. And if they don’t, they want to and are on their way.)

I guess what I’ve been trying to say in so many words  is that: Numbers are awesome. Finishing books is awesome. My Reading Lab-ers are awesome. Beyonce’s dance moves are awesome. Classroom libraries are awesome. When it comes to numbers and letters, the Jackson Five (there’s five again!) is awesome. They were really onto something when they sang: “A,B,C, easy as 1,2,3.”

See what I did there? favicon

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A day of in-person writing conferences

 I’m a big fan of Google Docs, but when it comes to helping students with their writing, in-person conferences still can’t be beat.

Today, I spent my lunch and after-school time helping ninth graders with their writing conventions and MLA formatting.

My colleague Nancy Jo, who is doing a great job getting her students to internalize the basic essay structure, asked me to be available on a first-come, first-served basis for conferencing. I happily agreed.

Five students took her up on her offer.

Here’s what I concluded:

1. Ninth graders are super polite and eager to improve their writing skills. Each student took their 10-minute conference seriously and listened deeply to my suggestions. Are ninth graders nicer when I’m not teaching them?

2. Errors in writing conventions are very predictable. Most ninth graders have trouble leading into evidence. They also use contractions and the second person in formal academic writing. And they have trouble figuring out where to put the comma after an introductory clause.

3. Working with students one on one is crucial. I can assure you that the five students who worked with me today will remember the three little things each that I tried to teach them. That’s because we did it live and in person. Unfortunately, this kind of work is impossible to achieve in greater numbers.

4. It’s better to talk than to edit. The urge is to circle and correct all the errors. But that doesn’t teach the student anything. Instead, I scanned the students’ essays, noted patterns, and began there. The students learned more by finding their own errors and practicing their own editing skills.

Teaching writing — especially conventions — is hard. There has to be a combination of direct instruction, practice, online work, and in-person conferencing.

Today, I felt effective and respected, thanks to a wonderful colleague who pushed her students to seek me out as a resource. The students, too, reminded me of the important work we do together.