Last year, I dipped my toe into Classroom Book-a-Day, reading one picture book a week to my seventh graders. I was interested in doing it more often, but for years, we have read and discussed a poem at the start of most classes, kind of Nancie Atwell’s version of Classroom Book-a-Day, and I didn’t want to lose that. I wasn’t sure if I could make time for both. This year, though, I’m trying it. I’m hoping that with good planning and a focus on making my writing mini-lessons shorter and more efficient, I can create the time we need without sacrificing independent reading and writing time.
One of my other goals this year is to be more purposeful in the books I choose and how we use them. Last year, some books were chosen for specific reasons, such as the ones that fit with the Global Read Aloud, but many others were chosen without a reason other than I liked them. Now, there’s nothing wrong with reading a book just because it’s good, but I also think we can do more with them than we did a year ago. As I was reading some of Pernille Ripp’s favorites for the start of school, I started thinking about the conversations I wanted us to have that first week, and I chose titles that could lead us to those topics.
Day 1: The Pigeon HAS to Go to School by Mo Willems
Seventh grade is a year of transition at our school. We tend to get a lot of new students in seventh grade, and for our returning students, they are leaving the elementary wing and heading down to the junior high/high school end of the building for the first time. They rotate classes more, and there are many other changes to get used to. In this book, the pigeon talks a lot about his feelings about starting school. After reading, we talked about the same thing. It was great to hear students who were brave enough to explain the reasons why they were scared or nervous or excited for the school year.
Day 2: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
Last year we read this on day one. This year, it was moved back a day. In this book, Penelope is obviously not a great classmate, at least at the beginning. Eating your classmates is definitely not going to endear yourself to anyone. So, in addition to giving us a chance to laugh together, this book led to a conversation about the expectations students have for each other, what they need from each other in order to have a productive and enjoyable year.
Day 3: Book by David Miles, illustrated by Natalie Hoopes
I found this one at a library book sale a couple years ago. It celebrates books and the experience of entering another world when we read. We used this as an entry point to discuss the experience of reading. While Miles shows the wonderful side of reading, we also know that reading isn’t always great, especially for some students. So, borrowing an idea from Pernille Ripp, we discussed these questions: “When/why is reading awful? When/why is reading great?” More on this in a bit.
Day 4: What If? by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Mike Curato
Another beautiful book, What If? celebrates the art of creating stories of all kinds and in all ways. While not just about writing, we used this to lead into a conversation that paralleled yesterdays, again borrowed from Pernille: “When/why is writing awful? When/why is writing great?”
The conversations we had on Thursday and Friday this week are ones that for years I avoided having. In the last few years I did begin to talk to students about these topics, but it was usually one-on-one. I’m not exactly sure why we didn’t talk about these things sooner. Maybe part of it was my concern about allowing students who didn’t like writing or reading to have a platform to spread their views to others in the class. Now, of course, this fear is silly. Nobody is going to start disliking writing or reading just because someone convinces them too, just like nobody is going to start liking it just because someone tells them to. The other reason this was silly is that students are already having these conversations. If a teacher gives students an assignment they hate, we can bet that students are going to talk about it. By bringing these discussions into our classrooms, now we as teachers can be a part, and we can also work together to find solutions to the bad sides of reading and writing.
I’m looking forward to seeing what else becomes possible because of the picture books we read together this year. I have a couple titles in mind for next week, but I also have a big stack to sort through. I’m looking forward to reading through them with my daughters this weekend to try to decide which ones we’ll read next.