Sixth Grade Summer Reading Recommendations

I asked my sixth grade students to do book talks on their favorite novel of the year. The only caveats I gave them were that the books must be appropriate for their age range (middle grade) and not have been made into a movie in their lifetime. I loved the choices they made!

Abbott, Tony Firegirl
Anderson, Laurie Halse Fever 1793
Asher, Jay Thirteen Reasons Why ***
Bauer, Joan Close to Famous
Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker The War that Saved My Life
Burkhart, Jessica Canterwood Crest series
Byng, Georgia Molly Moon series
Clements, Andrew Things Not Seen
Condie, Ally Matched series
Constable, Cathryn The Wolf Princess
Costew, Lori Sherpa’s Adventure
Craw, Gloria Atlantis Rising
Dashner, James Maze Runner series
DeStefano, Lauren Wither
DiCamillo, Kate The Tale of Desperaux
DiCamillo, Kate Flora and Ulysses
Dionne, Erin Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking
Draper, Sharon Stella by Starlight
Draper, Sharon Out of My Mind
Erskine, Kathryn Mockingbird
Funke, Cornelia Inheart
Gemienhart, Dan The Honest Truth
Graff, Lisa Absolutely Almost
Green, John Paper Towns ***
Gruener, Gruener, and Gatz Prisoner B-3087
Haddix, Margaret Peterson Among the Hidden
Harrison, Lisi Revenge of the Wannabes
Henkes, Kevin Junonia
Hiassen, Carl Flush
Hunt, Lynda Mullaly One for the Murphys
Kessler, Jessica Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?
LaFleur, Suzanne Eight Keys The Lions of Little Rock
Levine, Kristin
Littman, Sarah Darer Backlash ***
Lord, Cynthia Touch Blue
Lu, Marie Legend series
Martin, Ann Rain Reign
Messner, Kate Wake Up Missing
O’Dell, Scott Island of the Blue Dolphins
Palacio, R.J. Wonder
Patterson, James Maximum Ride
Riordan, Rick The Lost Hero
Russell, Renee The Dork Diaries series
Sloan, Holly Goldberg Counting by 7s
Spinelli, Jerry Stargirl
Stein, Garth Racing in the Rain, My Life as a Dog Drama
Telgemier, Raina
Telgemier, Raina Smile
Turetsky, Bianca The Time Traveling Fashionista series
Van Draanen, Wendelin The Running Dream
Verne, Jules 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Woods, Brenda The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond
Zusak, Marcus The Book Thief
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Whole-Class Novels vs. Student Choice Reading–Why Not Both?

As I’ve said before, I am a PD junkie. Even though I have been teaching for over 20 years, I read every new book that comes out on teaching English. I feel the same way about these books as I do about attending professional conferences. If I gain one new, great idea, then it was worth the price. Plus, I face the same challenge as many of my secondary colleagues—I have to teach reading, writing, speaking, grammar, usage, and mechanics in a mere 45 minutes a day. I guess I figure that someday I will find the Holy Grail book that will give me the answer to how to structure my “Goldilocks” class. So far, I haven’t found it, and this blog is my attempt to work through this challenge.

Through my reading, I found one curricular tradition that has taken a huge beating in the last several years is the teaching of the whole-class novel. It almost feels as if a gauntlet has been thrown down and English teachers are forced to take the side of continuing to teach whole class novels or of an entirely student choice model. I don’t believe it has to be either-or. I find a balance of whole-class novels, free voluntary reading, and read-alouds to be the trifecta of a winning reading curriculum. Erica Beaton also calls for a balance of these concepts and did a fantastic series of posts on her blog that I encourage you to check out: Whole-Class Novels vs. Choice-Only Reading.

What I believe most people hate about whole-class novels is that they are continuing to be the main source of reading instruction in schools, and they are being taught very, very badly. If we address those two issues, we could achieve a winning formula for engaging reading instruction.

I am not alone in my thinking. Many of my professional mentors such as Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Cris Tovani still teach whole class novels, but not as the backbone of their curriculum either—whole-class novels are but one component. Ariel Sacks has written an entire book devoted to teaching the whole class novel, Whole Novels for the Whole Class. I agree with much of what she says in the book, and I also facilitate a student-centered class. I have been teaching similarly to Ms. Sacks for several years (ever since I read Readicide and the Book Whisperer) and I am happy to see her book become so successful because it means that there are like-minded teachers out there. Even those who believe all reading in a class should be of a student’s choice incorporate the reading aloud of novels so they are, in effect, also sharing a group reading experience with their students.

I have written about this before (Channeling Goldilocks: Attempting to get it “just right” ), but wanted to go into more depth and also show how useful Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst has been in refining how I use whole-class novels. Stay tuned for my next post: How NOT to Kill To Kill a Mockingbird: Reviving the Whole Class Novel.

Choice Reading Personal Book Challenges

ID-10022022I participated in a wonderful #titletalk Twitter chat last night. I mentioned that I provided my students with a list of independent reading Personal Challenge options for them to choose and undertake. Several participants asked for a copy, so I promised I would post it this morning.

Here is a little background about this list.

First, for the last six years, I have devoted the first 10 minutes of every class to independent choice reading. I currently teach at an independent middle school and have 45 minute class periods (the longest I have ever had to teach middle school ELA is 52 minutes), but I believe choice reading is time well spent. We have a slightly shorter school year than the local public schools, so I changed the traditional 40 book challenge to 30 to accommodate.

Second, my school emphasizes the study of literature so, with the exception of one, the challenges are for fiction books.

Third, there are no rewards for these challenges. They are merely a fun option to get them engaged and they seem to enjoy setting their own goals.

Fourth, there is the option to design their own challenge which several students chose to develop.

If I come up with any more ideas, I am going to add them to the list for next year. Please let me know what you would add.

Below is the document I created with details of the challenges. Feel free to adapt for your own use.

Personal Book Challenge Ideas

image courtesy of: freedigitalphotos.net

You mean we get to read for fun?

Whenever I am in a group of English teachers and we discuss our classroom practices, I share that the best thing I have done for my students over the last six years is to offer them ten minutes of free, choice reading at the beginning of every class. I even offer to share the research demonstrating the validity of this practice because I believe in it so much. They challenge me by saying that they cannot afford to give up the classroom time because they have so much material to cover. I completely understand this as I only have 45 minute class periods myself, but I can’t imagine taking this time away. It is a challenge, but it is non-negotiable. The conversation inevitably turns to how I assess this choice reading. I dread this question because it puts me on the defensive. My answer is that I don’t. I am always met with disbelief, disapproval, or peers that tell me their kids won’t read if it is not for points, a prize, or a grade. This has not been my experience. It works for me and my students and I see the results in their improved reading, writing, and speaking skills. Additionally, they are completely engaged on a daily basis. They enter class and open their books right away. They share their favorite books with me and even show me passages that they particularly enjoy. You can hear a pin drop during those ten minutes and they groan when it’s over. That’s enough assessment for me.

I consider Donalyn Miller, Terry Lesesne, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Stephen Krashen, and Kylene Beers (among others) to be experts on this topic and all are a huge influence on the way I run my class. I have drunk their Kool-Aid and it is my favorite flavor–literacy. In his book, Readicide, Kelly Gallagher asks readers to put themselves in their happy reading place at home. He asks, “Do you finish your book quickly so you’ll have more time to write a report, make a poster, or build a diorama?” Of course not. Adults do not do this, and children should not have to either.

My students do a great deal of formal and informal activities with the books that they read. I require them to keep a reading log including the author, title, genre, rating, and rationale for their rating. I want them to look for patterns to learn what they love and where there may be areas for growth. I have them write a literacy letter to me each marking period. They tell me what they are enjoying reading and why, and I respond to their letter. They do book talks, book trailers, and book recommendations one another. We have book swaps and book floods, write reviews for bulletin boards, make graffiti walls of favorite quotes, and use the texts as examples for mentor texts. I just don’t grade their reading in any way. These activities are naturally motivating and they always complete them. The bonus is that the children are always reading. I almost can’t keep up with the requests for book recommendations. They get so excited when I tell them I tweeted the author to tell them how much they loved the book. They take their books to other classes and read when they finish their work. (To the point where a colleague complained that all the kids wanted to do was read, and another colleague replied that there are worse problems we could have.) What more can I say? This system just works for me.

I don’t know whether this will work for you, but you truly have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Signing off for now. I am sure there is a twitter chat I am missing.