One of the best aspects of a new school year is it’s a chance to start fresh, to try instructional moves that I haven’t tried before. I’m going to share “new-to-me” techniques that I’m hoping will help my students discover books that otherwise might stay hidden in book baskets, help students access their multiple intelligences and help students find their own voices.
The first move is to have a recommendation bookshelf. At the moment, I have five shelves at the front of my classroom where all the books face out to entice readers to grab the books. During our first Friday free choice read last week, one of my students glanced at the books I had placed on the middle of the rug, stood up, strode over to the recommendation bookshelf and snagged The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop by Carole Boston Weatherford. It was pretty cool to watch. He did not hesitate. Obviously, the stunning cover had been calling to him.
As the year progresses, I want students’ picks to replace my summer reads on our recommendation bookshelf. But the thing is, there’s only space on the shelves for one book per student. So, the challenge is how will I continue to shine light on books when they’re bumped from the shelf to make room for a student’s new recommendation?
I’m going to take a page out of Ernesto Cisnero’s planning book and try his recommendation bookmarks. Ernesto, who is an award-winning author and a middle school ELA teacher, has his students fill out the bookmarks on Google docs. Click here to access an electronic copy of the bookmark. I may give my students that option, but I also want to give a hardcopy option because some students get distracted when the Chromebooks come out. I printed this, whited out the lines on the outside of the bubble and made copies on cardstock.
Tomorrow, I’m going to introduce the recommendation bookmarks to the class. Before the students add a book to the recommendation shelf, they’ll complete a bookmark. The bookmark has a speech bubble that sticks out of the top of the book. That way, when the book goes back into the basket, there will be a visual reminder to students that the book used to be on the recommendation shelf.
The students will write their favorite quote from the book or why they recommend the book in the bubble. On the rectangular part of the bookmark, they will draw a picture that represents the book or come up with a three-song playlist. I’ll introduce the activity with my The Roots of Rap bookmark.
They’ll also put a laminated copy of the bookmark instructions in their reading folders.
Choosing books to recommend, drawing and listening to songs is the start of shaking up my instruction, but I want to go even further. When I interviewed Alicia D. Williams last year, she talked about how if a teacher looks at kids and tells them to go write without getting the creative juices flowing, the students will freeze up. So, she uses movement and sound to get kids into the writing groove. I’m going to try that tomorrow with The Roots of Rap.
In an earlier draft, The Roots of Rap was told from a low-rider’s perspective. The car travelled through the roots of rap. In the published version of the book, every few spreads bass lines accompany Carole’s exquisite text. These bass lines come from the earlier draft.
After I read the book to the students, I’m going to assign each group of four students a different bass line from the book. Then, I’ll read the book again while one group performs the bass line for each spread. Finally, students will go create their bookmarks. It should be a ton of fun, and even if it doesn’t go as planned, it will be something new.