Choosing Just Right Books- One-Week Follow-Up (Plus a Surprise Inside)

By Victoria Jasztal on September 30, 2009

Some of you may remember last week's post about choosing "Just Right" books. I am posting a follow-up because the situation is getting better. Last Thursday, for one, was Open House, and I distributed a letter to parents that talked about the Five Finger test. Additionally, I have opened up the majority of morning work to Independent Reading Time and encouraged my students to write book recommendations. When my students walked in this morning, they saw this written on the board- There is an index card on your desk. Today you are going to write a book recommendation. When you are done, it will be included on our Book Recommendation Board. I then told them to include the title of the book, the author's name, the number of stars they were rating the book, and a short summary.

The only part that stumped them at first was rating the book a specific number of stars. A few thought that they had to find how many stars another critic gave the book, but I informed them this was completely up to their discretion. Below is the result of the completed board with everyone's recommendations. I was very impressed!

Bookrec

Now this may sound slightly ridiculous, but I have never met with students too much about book choices in the past. Reading the Scholastic book from Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak (check out an excerpt here) opened my eyes up to this idea this past summer. This board helped me to examine the students' current choices as well as their ultimate favorites. If you conduct individual book conferences, what exactly do you discuss, and when do you find time to have them? I know by discussing this with colleagues often, I can improve this more and more.

Aside from that, students received journals- yet I am still modeling quite a bit on how to write detailed journal entries with all the needed components, particularly predictions about what is going to happen next. Since I had never used journals to this extent before, it is a learning experience for me, yet everyone starts somewhere.

Before the surprise, here are a few descriptions students wrote- 

Vanessa- Monster Hunters by Dean Lorey- My book Monster Hunters is about a boy named Charlie Benjamin whos nightmares bring monsters to life. Charlie has powers that he doesn't know about. There is also a Nightmare Academy where he will learn how to control his powers. So I love this book and I ould like to continue reading it.

Syrus- Monster Madness by Dean Lorey- If I could award any book author it would be Dean Lorey and his novel Monster Madness. The novel is fantastic and has a five star rating from me. Charlie Benjamin is a double threat, which means he can banish and create massive portals.

Aleesia- The Report Card by Andrew Clements- It has a lot of different characters such as a girl named Nora, her mom, her dad, her teachers, and her friend Stephen. She is in fifth grade. On her report card, she got all Ds and one C. All of her teachers and her parents are wondering why she got those bad grades but she only did it because her best friend Stephen got bad grades in fourth grade and thought he was a loser. She did not want to see him depressed.

Maverick- 39 Clues by Rick Riordan- Two kids named Amy and Dan are on the race for clues around the world. Dan and Amy had two choices. One choice is to get one million dollars in cash. The second choice is to find clues from their family's source because they found out their family is the strongest people in the world. The clues are around the world. Their grandma put clues to get people closer to the source. If Amy and Dan get all the clues they might get to be the strongest.

Alison- Rules by Cynthia Lord- There's a girl named Catherine and she has a brother named David. David has autism, and Catherine made rules for him. One day a neighbor moves in and she becomes Catherine's friend. Her name is Kristi. When Catherine goes with her mom and dad to physical therapy for David's autism, Catherine meets a boy named Jason who can't speak, and they become friends. Later on, Catherine and Kristi go to the pond to swim. Kristi gets a little upset...

Additionally, Group 4 recorded a podcast this past week about choosing Just Right books. For the very first podcast, it was really good. You may listen to it by clicking here- http://teachingvision.org/jpod/.

Besides that, we are going to start Read-a-Thons called Feed and Read soon where students will stay at school a few times a month until 7:00 p.m. to read books, take Reading Counts tests, and eat pizza. We also will play games, one of them being... water bottle bowling. (Reuse and recycle!)

Now here is the surprise

Beth Newingham has a spectacular idea where students decorate writing journals. In the past, students in my class have decorated them at home at the very beginning of the year, yet I did two things differently this year- I had the students wait a month, and I had them decorate the journals at school. They turned out being tremendous. The students already had great writings inside, so they valued their journals even more. Here are a few pictures-


Enjoy the rest of your week! I hope I provided a lot of "Food for Thought".

Comments

And I LOVE the kids pictures! They are all so cute and proud of their work!

... Me, too. I love taking pictures of them. A few of the kids in my class are really amazing me with their smiles this year because I have never seen them smile like that before (like in the yearbook in previous years)!! Some I compliment on their smiles all the time. - Victoria

I love the journal idea and having the kids decorate it in class. My students always bring their "Writing Through the Year" journals back to me years after they left my class--I never thought to let them bring pictures in to decorate the covers. Wow! A simple and terrific idea--but you seem to have plenty of those. Thanks for sharing all of these terrific ideas. My year is going to go better because of you!

... Thank you, Kate. The kids keep their journals this way and treasure it for years to come. This year's class is very proud of their journals- and they love having their pictures on them, also. My class is certainly a group of aspiring writers! They are VERY strong and creative. - Victoria

Hello Victoria,

I recently came across your website and thoroughly am intrigued by your many ideas. Your blog is great too. I especially like your idea of decorating the writer's notebook. I wanted to do this in the beginning of the year but never got around to it. But now after reading your post, I think it's best to wait a month or so. The students accumulate more entries over time and have connected with their notebook. I'm inspired now to have my students decorate their notebook after all. Thanks!

... Definitely! At first, I was complaining in my mind. I was thinking, "What HAVE I done? I normally do this in the first or second week of school!" Yet now I have thought back to the first few weeks, and the kids did not appreciate writing like they do now. They have connected with their notebooks and are developing a voice/style/whatever you would like to call it. I also had to teach them HOW to collect entries. They never did this in the past- either it wasn't a year that writing could be focused on as much or they were just... younger and their expectations were different.

I may have them move on to decorate their binders as well because it is filled with all kinds of writing style and advice pages that help them out with their notebooks.- Victoria

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