With the stacks of books pictured above, I have now finished my initial preview stacks for this year. I liked this idea when I first read about it in Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller, but it was a little intimidating to think about the time it might take to put together a stack of books for every single student. I’m glad I decided to try it, though, because the time it takes is well worth it.
I hand out these stacks during the second week of school. By this point, each student has chosen his or her first book—or in the case of one boy this year, his twentieth. Some students in my class have little or no experience choosing books for themselves, so our class has also created a list of ways to “interview” books, a term I borrowed from Glenn Powers at Nancie Atwell’s school, CTL. I use two surveys—one about them as readers and one just about them—to create stacks for three to five students per block per day, however many I need to do to get done in a week. I give students time to look through the stacks and then follow up with them about the books they liked and didn’t like.
This is a great way to start the year for each student, avid readers and nonreaders alike. For students who don’t have an independent reading life, this stack offers hope. As they see promising titles—books written about topics that interest them or that fit their backgrounds, maybe ones that don’t look too intimidating—these students can, maybe for the first time, think that there might be books out there that are right for them. For avid readers, on the other hand, this is a dream scenario: the chance to look through stacks of books chosen specifically with them in mind. It’s cool to see the anticipation build as students wait for it to be their day. The stacks also begin to build trust between us, showing students that I’m interested in each of them as an individual and that I’m familiar with a wide variety of books.
Last year, I started typing lists of which books I put on each student’s stack. This year I also started marking all the ones students added to their Someday Books Lists. I also want to use stacks purposefully with individual students throughout the year. I might use a stack to stretch a reader or help him or her accomplish a reading goal, either to encourage them towards more challenging books or to expand to a new genre.
This year, I noticed a number of students who didn’t add as many books as what students normally do, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last week or so. I usually try to get all stacks done by the end of the second week. However, I’m wondering if next year I should spread it out more, maybe do one or two students a day in each block so that I can sit down with each of them and talk to them more about each book, explaining a bit more about why I thought he or she would like it. This would have the added bonus of easing the workload during that second week because getting ten to fifteen stacks ready for each day is exhausting. I’m not sure yet, but this will be something I’ll keep thinking about for next year.