Tag Archives: Reading

Book Review: Yoga Girls’ Club by Tiffani Bryant

Review copy graciously provided by publisher through NetGalley.

Yoga Girls Club would be a great resource for any student or adult sponsor looking to start a yoga club at a school or after-school program. I think, and there is research to support the idea, that yoga can be very helpful in educational settings.  Calm and methodical stretching as a “brain break” is a common classroom management tool and helps not only with students’ self control but brain function, as well.  This book would be a neat way to introduce the a yoga practice to interested students as an after-school club or something similar.  Overall, it has many merits, but I do have a few hesitations about it, as well.

Yoga Girls Club by Tiffani Bryant.  Review copy provided by publisher through NetGalley.

Yoga Girls Club by Tiffani Bryant. Review copy provided by publisher through NetGalley.

Yoga’s benefits are not limited to girls, so I would like to see an edition of this book that is not so gender specific. I like the workbook elements incorporated into the book and that it incorporates more than just postures and breathing into its instruction. The book also guides girls to explore their own creativity and goals. The book goes into nice detail about many of the beliefs behind the practice of yoga. I think that this is valuable information to include, but it does elevate the reading level of the text. Additionally, it would be nice if this information was presented in a way that allowed a little more room for readers to consider and explore a yoga practice within their own system of beliefs.  I think that this background could be presented more as informational context rather than things inherent to a yoga practice. The instruction of poses and movement is accurate and detailed, but may be more accurate if reorganized and labeled steps. More pictures in this portion of the book may also be helpful.

Overall, the I think the book is a fantastic concept that has been pretty well executed save for the few recommendations made here.

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Beyond Classroom Walls: Encouraging Independent Reading and Engaging the Community

Too often, students, at least those in middle school, maintain and apply the skills  and habits we seek to build in our English classroom struggle once they walk out of our doors.  Of particular interest to me today is how we build up students to read for pleasure.  There are many great classroom practices, such as free-choice book units and independent reading time built into the school days.  One of our hopes in these practices is that students will find an appreciation for reading within the school day that they will eventually pursue on their own.  For many students, though, even if they enjoy the practice of selecting their own titles and reading independently at school, it becomes more of a task in the real, often chaotic worlds they live in outside our walls.  Lately the question of turning a reading practice into a reading habit follows me everywhere I go.

Star Wars ShakespeareOne thing I think is key to creating independent readers among young teens, especially, is showing them that they are  surrounded by independent readers and that those independent readers are not only their peers.  I try to keep a book I am reading for pleasure on my desk at school at all times.  It usually takes me a long time to finish these titles since there is not much time for pleasure-reading in my day, but it’s presence and the slow progress of its book mark is still valuable.  Right now, you will find Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher presiding over my desk.  Despite my significant lack of Star Wars knowledge, it is clever, funny, and surprisingly well done, but I will provide a review when I finish in a few weeks.  My hope is that they will see that not all reading is assigned and that there is a surprising amount of variety out there.  Star Wars written in the style of Shakespeare? Who would have thought!?!

A screenshot of outrteacher book collage from my class website.

A screenshot of outrteacher book collage from my class website.

Still, I am their English teacher, and of all the adults they know, my students expect me to be one who reads for pleasure.  I needed to expand the picture for them.  I reached out to my fellow 8th grade teachers and asked them what they were reading for pleasure that would also be appropriate for our students.  The response was great!  I created a collage/slideshow on my class website (see screenshot to the right) to illustrate for students that reading for pleasure is not reserved for English teachers alone.  Math teachers read! Science teachers read! History teachers read! And, they read things you may be interested in!  I also wanted to provide these teachers with a new avenue for reaching out to their students by showing the kids what their teachers are reading and hopefully inspiring some new conversations and connections.

So, now students know that there are adults out there who read for pleasure, but you may have noticed by now, that one critical element is missing.  Parents.  Teachers are a unique subset of adults in the minds of teens, and what applies to teachers does not always apply to the world around them.  Teens need to see adults in the world outside their school, and their parents in particular, reading – maybe even reading to them!  On numerous occasions, I have had eighth grade parents share with me that their children used to be readers, but that their enthusiasm has drop as they progressed through middle school.  Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon pattern as students go through dramatic changes that seem to consume their thoughts and more demands are placed on their time.  Just because it is a pattern, though, does not mean it needs to persist.  In communication with parents, I usually give three pieces of common, research-based practices in encouraging a student’s at-home reading practice.  Feel free to share with the parents of your own students:

  • As a family, make sure that reading for pleasure is a visible act from time to time.  If reading for fun is modeled, it will become a more normalized activity that teens are more likely to pursue on their own. 
  • Have casual conversations about what your teen is reading.  These conversations should not feel like work or a quiz.  For instance, I know that [insert student’s name] just started a book for independent reading titled [insert title and author].  This title could be a great jumping off point for some dinner table conversations.
  • When appropriate, recommend something you have read to your teen, or read a book you may both be interested together. 

Hopefully,at least some of these practices are already a part of a family’s environment, but even when they are, I remind parents that being a little more intentional in them can make a difference.

How do you move beyond reading logs and book reviews to help students turn reading independently into a valuable habit?

Book Review: I’m Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil

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Cynthia Weil’s story of the music industry in the 1960’s is a quick and enjoyable read.  J.J. Green has just graduated from high school and dreams of making it as a songwriter in the music industry despite the fact the it is practically a house rule that all Green children become lawyers. J.J. Has one short summer to prove to her family that she has enough talent to follow her dream.  After securing a summer job in New York’s music district’s historic Brill Building, the teen protagonist is taken on a wild ride including meeting and working with her musical icon, reconnecting with an estranged uncle, falling in love for the first time, and even helping to solve a murder mystery.

It is clear that Weil knows her way around the music business and her insight helps to create a colorful and engaging setting for the book. Key events from the civil rights movement are referenced throughout; however, the book seems to lack the sense of electric tension those events generated. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this book that, more than anything, is about family and forgiveness.  Additionally, I find it refreshing to come across a novel for teens that is not laced with swear words and suggestive scenes yet that I also think will still be enjoyed by a wide range of young adults.

Advanced Review Copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

A Quick Note on E-Books

Independent reading looks very different in my classroom this year, and quite suddenly, too. Last year, I had one student bring in an e-reader one time, and the occurrence was an event and a novelty. This is the first year I have seen a semi-regular appearance of e-readers in the classroom. Each period has seen at least one kindle or nook appear. One had an ipad being used as an e-reader. These devices seem to be family editions rather than individual possessions. Beyond the physical presence of e-readers, there are also students reading e-books on the school laptops. I’m not really sure what this trend means for the book market and the future of reading habits, but if it means that middle school students are engaged in a practice of reading self-selected books independently, how can it be a bad thing?

Have you seen e-books appearing in your school? Are you taking any extra steps to even use them more officially/intentionally?

English Classrooms and Libraries – Bound at the Spines

I know, I know, National Library Week was a while ago.  We celebrated in my classroom by showing a little extra love to our school’s part time librarian (who is also our art teacher) and by encouraging those amongst us with out library cards to go ahead and sign up for one.  However, the state of libraries in our state, nation, and the world at large is seriously bothering me.  Fortunately, the county in which I work seems to have a reasonably healthy library system.  They are large, with many programs, well stocked and staffed, and boast ample hours.  However, the county in which I live is trying to sustain a library system that has taken some serious hits.  Entire branches are closing and many have had their hours and staff cut back significantly.

Teachers, and English teachers especially, should be some of the libraries biggest advocates.  Many of us know the value of a classroom library and pour hours, and often dollars, into cultivating a classroom environment that boasts easy access to a wealth and variety of books.  We know that the more students are surrounded by books, the more likely they are to develop life long reading habits.

The same benefits are true of our school and public libraries.  They provide the invaluable service of opening up more opportunities for reading and research than most of us could find on our own.  They are staffed with knowledgeable persons eager to cultivate our reading interests and habits.  For teachers, that’s one more expert in our boat, one more advocate for the reading practices we are preaching in our classroom, and hundreds more books than we could provide on our own.

Now here is the tricky part – Library usage is not down.  In fact, it is the highest it has been in recent decades.  Libraries are seeing more visitors and less money than ever before.  Does this seem as backwards to you as it does to me?   It blows my mind that local officials could look at the ways libraries are serving their clients and decide to reduce funding.

So how can we help?

Here are some ideas I’m sharing with my students.  I would love to read some of yours in the comments section – especially if you are a librarian.  How can we help YOU?

My ideas:

1.  Donate used books to library sales and restock your home library from those same sale tables.

2.  Join your local “Friends of the Library” group and participate in the many avenues for service those organizations offer.

3.  Write to local officials advocating for increase funding for your library.  Share what the institution has meant to you.

4.  Show your librarians a little extra love.  While this may not get them more funding.  Letting them know that you care while they may not get the same appreciation from those negotiating their budgets will be uplifting.

Check out the info graphic below (you can find it online here):

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