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Tools of the Trade: Summer Reading

by Kelly Virgin

In a recent blog post titled A Letter to Teachers as Summer Begins, Kylene Beers writes, “I hope you each find time this summer to walk some, nap some, and read some. Actually, I hope you read a lot. Read something – lots of somethings – for pure escape, and read lots of things to learn a lot.”

If you are anything like me, you have a mountain of unread somethings that you have earnestly accumulated throughout the school year with every intention but no time to read. A few of the books in my pile that will be going home with me this summer include Mentor Texts, Second Edition, Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Capelli, Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst, and The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. With these books in hand, I hope to learn and grow as a teacher of writing, a teacher of reading, and a teacher of students living in the real world.

Mentor Texts 2nd Edition.jpgSomething on Writing: Mentor Texts

When the first edition of Mentor Texts came out ten years ago, it completely changed the way I approached writing instruction in my highschool classroom. I went from separating reading and writing instruction, to seamlessly blending the two. The result of this “aha” transformation in my teaching was immediate and inspiring. Not only did my students start to recognize a clear connection between the literature we read and the writing we crafted, they also started to explore and experiment with their writing in new and exciting ways. So my excitement was palpable when I discovered Lynne and Rose put out a second, expanded edition of this cornerstone text.

For those of you who love the wealth of ideas presented in the Your Turn Lessons, you are in for a treat with this 2nd edition as each chapter offers at least two new lessons that are thoughtfully designed to ease students into taking ownership over the writing process. As always, Lynne and Rose provide practical suggestions for how we can model the writing for our students and use mentor texts to guide and spark thinking. While I’ve only had the book sitting on my desk for a few weeks now, I’ve already turned to and used two of the Your Turn Lessons from the “Poetry: Everybody Can Be a Writer” chapter to encourage my students to use their senses to craft poetry. Both lessons were fun, engaging, and effective.

Another new addition to this book is a Think About It – Talk About It – Write About It section at the end of each chapter.  These sections invite teachers to pause and engage in the much needed self-reflection that helps us grow in our practice. As Lynne and Rose explain in the introduction, “Through reflection and conversations with others about writing, we discover what works in our classrooms and what we might try.” The new  questions they pose at the end of each chapter will help guide you on the path towards that discovery.

Finally, eight out of the ten chapters include brand new additional sections and the Treasure Chest of Books (my personal favorite resource) is updated and refreshed. Some of the new sections include The Student as Writer, Sentence Fluency: The Ebb and Flow of Language, and A Journey Through a Mentor Text. In the final Chapter, Lynne and Rose removed all out of print books and added new books with annotations to the Treasure Chest.

Linda Hoyt ends her forward to the book by explaining, “Mentor Texts is like having a literature expert and master teacher at your side all year long. Enjoy it, mark it up, make it your friend. You and your students will be energized and motivated as you savor richly constructed mentor texts and connect them to amazing writing opportunities.” I am so excited to have my friends and mentors Lynne and Rose by my side as I reimagine the ways my students and I will approach reading and writing with mentor texts throughout the next school year.

Something on Reading: Disrupting Thinking

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When I first learned about this book by bumping into it on Mary Buckelew’s blog post last month, I rushed to Amazon and bought it right away. Unfortunately, since it arrived in the midst of the hectic end of school year chaos, it has been sitting untouched on the corner of my desk for weeks. However, since so much of my reading instruction has been shaped by Kylene Beers’ When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do and by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s two Notice and Note books, I am eager to discover what new lessons await me in their latest collaboration.

As the title suggests, this book moves away from strategies that help teach students how to read more closely to strategies that help students to understand why this kind of reading is so important in the first place. The practical lessons focus on building student engagement and interest in their reading by offering ways to make the reading more relevant. I learned about one of these core strategies from Kylene and Bob at the NCTE annual convention in the fall. The Book, Head, Heart (BHH) approach to reading encourages students to consider what the book is about, how that makes them think, and what that makes them feel. I started asking my students to do this with their reading when I returned from NCTE and noticed an uptick in student engagement.MB-BHH.png

Bob explains the title well when he says, “I should be willing to let the reading disrupt my thinking, and that’s what we want to encourage for students.” They argue that reading should change you and present ways we can encourage our students to take this stance with their own reading. Watch Kylene and Bob explain the title more fully in this Scholastic interview.

f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9fSomething on the Real World: The Hate U Give

I saw this title pop up in a friend’s facebook feed several weeks ago and after a short investigation thought it would make a great addition to my classroom library. I started reading it during my students’ independent reading time and was quickly struck by how realistic and relatable the main character, Starr Carter, seemed. The story follows her point of view as she delicately navigates two very different lives: one is set in the dangerous black neighborhood where she lives and the other exists at the predominantly white private school where she studies, socializes, and plays basketball.

Even though the book jacket prepared me for the premise of the story before I began reading, I couldn’t help but gasp out loud, disturbing the quiet reading atmosphere of my classroom, when a police shooting abruptly turns Starr’s life upside down at just twenty-three pages into the book. While the situation has been all too familiar in our recent news cycles – an unarmed black man is pulled over and shot by a police officer for no apparent reason – encountering it in black and white on the page was jarring. The scene is so sudden and so shocking, I had to reread several times to make sure I fully grasped how quickly it turned deadly.

The remainder of the story seems to revolve around the aftermath of this shooting and its effect on Starr and her community. It is immediately clear that Starr will be permanently affected by what she witnessed as she narrates just two pages later: “The cops rummage through Khalil’s car. I try to tell them to stop. Please, cover his body. Please, close his eyes. Please, close his mouth. Get away from his car. Don’t pick up his hairbrush. But the words never come out.” I’m just over half way through the book, and while Khalil’s death has made national news, Starr is still struggling to find her voice in the matter.

Shortly after the murder of her friend, Starr muses, “…people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right. Maybe this can be it.” The truth behind this statement is unsettling and yet accurate. I am eager to discover if this book sticks to the more common and unfair reality our society witnesses daily or if it provides an example of what that one time can look like. To hear about the inspiration behind this book, watch an interivew with the author, Angie Thomas.

So, as the school year winds down and we are finally faced with that precious gift of time, I urge you to follow Kylene’s suggestion and squeeze some reading into your daily summer routine. Allow that reading to provide both an escape from the stresses of the previous year and a path to help you navigate the upcoming one.


Kelly VirginKelly Virgin teaches English for the Kennett Consolidated School District and has been a PAWLP fellow since 2010.  She is a proud bookworm and loves sharing her passion for reading and writing with her students. Through PAWLP, she facilitates the Strategies for Teaching Literature course in the spring and the Grammar Matters course in the summer.

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