Posts filed under 'Reading'

Author Conversations: Kim Yaris and Jan Burkins

We recently sat down with Kim Yaris and Jan Miller Burkins, authors of the new book Reading Wellness: Lessons in Independence and Proficiency. During the conversation they talked about how teaching kids the importance of the heavy lifting their brains do while figuring things out during reading helps them become more independent readers and learners. Watch the video below and then preview the book online!

Add comment October 6th, 2014

Now Online: Reading Wellness

How can you intentionally help your students find balance and purposeful direction in their reading lives–weaving together reading for relaxation, informational reading, reading for meaning, fluency, and selecting texts–to become their best reading selves?

In their new book, Reading Wellness, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris take you beyond reading strategies to give you specific ways to support your students’ enjoyment, perseverance, risk-taking, and connection-making as readers.

Anchored by four key intentions–alignment, balance, sustainability, and joy–Jan and Kim offer field-tested lessons, organizers, book lists, and other practical ways to teach reading skills while instilling the long-term attitudes and habits that your students need to become lifelong readers.

Reading Wellness will inspire you to stay connected to your broader vision of students as readers as you address the external requirements of educational standards. Preview the entire book online now!

1 comment August 28th, 2014

Sustaining Engagement: One School’s Attempt to Develop Lifelong Readers

We last checked in with Matt Renwick, an elementary school principal in Wisconsin, just as school was wrapping up in June. Now that school is about to start again, Matt talks about how his school sustains the reading program he and his staff launched in an effort to create lifelong readers.

As I was getting myself a cup of coffee in the staff lounge this spring, I noticed these posted on the wall:



Staff members had taken their favorite recommendations from a book-a-day calendar and taped them to the wall. Inscribed on many of the sheets were short comments about the title, which briefly explained why they liked it and why you should read it.

While I waited for the Keurig machine to finish brewing, several questions popped in my head. Who started this? Why is it sustaining itself? Where will this lead? These inquiries led to more questions about how it relates to our school in general. How do we get all of our K-5 students to this place, where they see responding to reading as something enjoyable? Is this an idea our learners would naturally come up with as a way to connect with others? In other words, how do we transition our students from formalized literacy instruction to lifelong reading?

This year, we attempted to answer these questions with the advent of an after school book club. We hired two advisers to facilitate an intervention that would no longer be referred to as an intervention. Although our lowest readers received special invitations, we encouraged all of our intermediate students to join us in developing this new community of readers.

Before we got the club started, the advisers and I sat down and went over some ground rules:

  • No quizzes
  • No reading requirements or logs
  • Let them read just about anything they want
  • Let them talk to each other about reading
  • Give them opportunities to share their reading lives
  • Provide just enough structure for these activities to be successful

These ideas, deriving from literacy experts such as Gay Ivey, Peter Johnston, and Donalyn Miller, seemed counter to everything we thought we knew about school. But for at least a few of our students, more of the same would not have served them well. If any one of us were asked to extend our own school day, how would we like to spend it?

The advisers, both avid readers themselves but not classroom teachers, could hardly contain their excitement. After some heavy recruiting, they got almost 20 students to initially enroll in the club. One of their first activities was for each student to bring in a favorite title, throw it in the middle of the table, pick a new one, and try to guess who originally submitted it.

This was actually a pre-assessment. Not of their reading levels, but of the level of enjoyment they experience as readers. Questions that were answered for the advisors included: Who knows who as a reader? Which genres, authors, and titles are the kids into right now? How comfortable was each student in being seen as a reader? This activity led to many more activities, such as hosting personal interviews with each other, facilitating book talks, reading aloud, and lots of independent reading.

Due to budget constraints, the book club could only meet two nights a week after school. This meant that they had to extend the day in ways that were meaningful for the students. One tool they used was Kidblog. Each student was given access to a blog in order to reflect on their reading as well as comment on others’ thinking. In addition, students were given access to eReaders that contained many titles of their choosing, all within one device. Through these activities that helped them connect with others, students could see that reading did not have to be sequestered to the literacy block.

We did not expect our students to make substantial gains from two and a half hours of extra reading practice. Our goal was to develop lifelong readers. With anything, people will engage in something over and over if they find joy, success, and recognition for their work. That is why the advisers and students culminated their time together with a readers theater performance. The play itself came from our school’s anthology series. This was okay, because the kids selected it.

After many re-readings and rehearsals, they were read to present in front of the entire school.

Someone could say that the activities these students engaged in – peer discussions, blogging, readers theater – are not interventions that have evidence for improving reading in students. But I think these people are looking at reading only through the lens of the act itself. We can quickly forget that reading is just as much an emotional endeavor as it is a cognitive one.

My own reading life didn’t begin until 3rd grade. That was the year my teacher read aloud Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. The rest, as they say, is history. It is not to suggest that I received poor instruction in my K-2 years. I just hadn’t developed an affinity for reading yet. I had the skills, but lacked the engagement.

Gay Ivey noted at the 2014 Wisconsin State Reading Association convention that readers don’t read to accumulate a required number of minutes or to fill out a reading log. They read because they love reading. The minutes and logs that we demand are a result of this engagement. In an educational world that highly values the scientific side of literacy, we need to continuously cultivate a community of connected readers and engage them in a lifelong and joyful journey of learning.

digitalstudentportfoliosMatt Renwick is a 15-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, he served as a junior high dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary school leader in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt blogs at Reading by Example, tweets @ReadByExample and writes for EdTech magazine. His book Digital Student Porfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Improvement will be published by Powerful Learning Press in July.





2 comments August 11th, 2014

Now Online: Poem Central

How can you bring poetry to students to enrich their lives as readers, writers, and human beings? Poet and staff developer Shirley McPhillips offers a multitude of entry points in her new book, Poem Central.

Using exemplary poems by teachers and students alike, Poem Central illustrates poetic devices and explains how they’re used. You and your students can apprentice yourselves to the readers and writers described in classroom vignettes, stories, and glimpses of poetry work in action. Curated lists of print and online resources help you find poems and further explore each concept.

Treat yourself to this reflective and complete guide to teaching poetry. Students will catch your passion as they come to find, read, talk about, and write poems for themselves. Poem Central will be published later this month, and you can now browse the entire book online.

Add comment June 5th, 2014

The importance of reading for non-bookworm students

We recently sat down with Dorothy Barnhouse, author of Readers Front and Center: Helping All Students Engage with Complex Texts, to talk about her new book. Her hope and goal for all students is to be able to use reading as a way of making sense of the world around them and to know that their thinking matters.

Add comment May 14th, 2014

The Importance of Poetry with Shirley McPhillips

On this last day of National Poetry Month, we are excited to bring you an in-depth conversation with poet and author Shirley McPhillips, whose latest book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers will be available in early June. In this video Shirley talks about her early experiences with language and music that provided the foundation for her love of poetry. She also discusses the joy sharing poetry can bring, and how poems can help us discover something new about ourselves and about the world.

Add comment April 30th, 2014

Preview the Full Text of 3 New Titles!

We’ve just posted the entire text of three new books from Pembroke Publishers (distributed in the U.S. by Stenhouse). Check them out now in their entirety! All three titles are available both in print and e-book formats.

Nonfiction Writing Power
Adrienne Gear
Grades K-8 • 160 pp • Available now
$24.00 print • $21.60 e-book • $34.00 print/e-book bundle
Gives you a complete framework for teaching the key genres of descriptive, instructional, persuasive, comparison, explanatory, and nonfiction narrative writing. Includes 29 sample lessons, dozens of printable planners & organizers, anchor text suggestions, and student samples.

Struggling Readers
Why Band-aids Don’t Stick and Worksheets Don’t Work
Lori Jamison Rog
Grades 3-9 • 160 pp • Available now
$24.00 print • $21.60 e-book • $34.00 print/e-book bundle
Provides a range of ideas that you can use to plan targeted small-group reading instruction for struggling readers in upper grades. Includes over 30 lesson routines and practices that span all aspects of reading instruction, from assessment to writing about reading, and includes numerous reproducible forms and organizers.

A Math Assessment Tool That Reveals Learning and Informs Teaching
Kevin Bird and Kirk Savage
Grades K-12 • 96 pp • Available now
$24.00 print • $21.60 e-book • $34.00 print/e-book bundle
The ANIE (Assessment of Numeracy in Education) is a simple, powerful tool that all teachers and specialists can continuously use to identify students’ understanding of a concept or procedure, and build instruction to support gaps in learning. Works with any math program to support conceptual and procedural understanding.

Add comment April 24th, 2014

In the Classroom with Jen: Engaging Our Youngest Readers

We continue our series with author and first-grade teacher Jen McDonough. This week she is sharing her classroom strategies for partner reading to make sure kids stay on task and on topic.

Engaging Our Youngest Readers Through Partner Work

jennifermcdonoughThere is nothing kids love more than hearing themselves talk. Any teacher will tell you that one of the hardest parts of the job is to get children to stop talking long enough for us to teach them something. So, why not capitalize on what is already a strength to help kids engage in reading?  All right, you are thinking at this point. We know kids like to talk a lot, but what they are talking about does not generally have anything to do with what is happening at school. Point taken. The true teaching magic happens when we can find ways to actually get kids to talk about the books they are reading and not about what they are currently creating on Minecraft. Here are a few “teacher tricks” I use to encourage my students to talk about the books they are reading during partner reading time.

1.     Find books with talkability.

By “talkability” I mean that we need to find books that give the kids something to talk about—books that engage and connect with readers, making them want to share what they have read. This can be especially hard in the lower grades, where decodable text is still front and center as the kids are learning how to read the words on the page. There is not much to discuss about a book that reads, “I see a yellow lemon. I see a purple grape. I see a red apple.”

Kindergarten and first grade are where read-alouds really need to come into play. I search far and wide for text that is easy to read but still carries a theme or message that might be pertinent to the children’s lives. I read the text aloud once—maybe twice—before I turn over the books so that the text is familiar and easier for them to decode.

Another way to help kids access books with bigger themes and more “talkability” is to have them listen to books on tape or an electronic device. By having the book read to them, the text can be more challenging than their independent levels and carry more depth and meaning. Partners can then meet and talk about the book they listened to. By late first grade and beyond, the children are able to start independently reading books that have more depth.

Finding the books can be another full-time job in itself. To lessen the load, the teachers at my school decided to work together to create an ongoing list of book titles that work well. The list can be accessed through Google Docs by all of the teachers and is constantly updated as we find new books to share with each other. Look for books that carry themes that children can identify with: friendship, feelings, or learning from mistakes, for example. I will share some of our favorites at the end of this post to get you started. Putting books in the kids’ hands that they connect with is one way to get them talking during partner reading.

2.     Record videos and make partner observations.

Another way I get kids talking about books during partner reading time is by videotaping them. I use the video function on my iPad with a Bluetooth microphone (so you can actually hear the kids over the classroom buzz of talking—hopefully about books). I record the students’ conversation and then play it for the class. Just like a coach sits down with the team after a game to critique what went well and what needs to be worked on, we do the same thing for reading partnerships. The kids discuss what they thought was going well and make a suggestion about what the partners might do to enhance their reading talk even more.

Young kids will typically say things like, “You did a good job sitting next to each other both holding the book” or “You were talking about the book you were reading the whole time.”  They might suggest strategies for getting the readers to think and talk about their books more deeply by saying, “You could talk about parts you really like and why” or “You can talk about any connections you made to the book.” Sometimes I give the students (even the kids in the partnership being watched) a two-column worksheet with a smiley face on one side and a worried face on the other so they can write down what they notice as they watch. This leads to a more focused discussion and not only helps the partnership being discussed but reminds all the students of ways they can learn more about what they are reading by talking and sharing. Knowing they need to be on task or risk being the focus of video where everyone can see them fooling around helps create an expectation about what should happen during partner reading time.

3.     Use successful partnerships as models for the class.

Finally, there are times when I come upon partners engaged in talk that is helping them delve deeper into their reading, and I jump on the opportunity to have them share their thinking with the class. I learned this “fishbowl” strategy from my work with the Reading and Writing Project at the Teacher’s College of Columbia University. The idea is to call the class over to watch the successful partners model what they are doing so the rest of the students can learn from them. Or I may wait until share time and have the partners model the work they did that day. This is another way to hold the kids accountable while showing them strategies for engaging more with their reading by talking about books with others. We know young children will grow as readers and thinkers if they are given time to talk with others about what they have read. Our job is to make sure the time is spent wisely.

Some of the books we love to give the kids are as follows. I would love to have people post book suggestions to add to the list as well!


Pete the Cat:  I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin
One and Zero by Kathryn Otoshi
The Dot by Peter J. Reynolds
Ish by Peter J. Reynolds


Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel
Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold
Poppleton series by Cynthia Rylant
Mr. Putter & Tabby series by Cythia Rylant
Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems

Learning from Mistakes

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst
Lulu Walks the Dog by Judith Viorst
Katio Woo series by Fran Manushkin
David series by David Shannon
Brand New Readers series published by Candlewick Press


Add comment March 26th, 2014

Now Online: Readers Front and Center

Even with the best of intentions, standards can pressure schools and teachers to narrow the curriculum and lose sight of what matters most: the voice of each student. In Readers Front & Center, Dorothy Barnhouse inspires you to listen carefully to students and plan instruction that raises the complexity of both student thinking and the books they read.

Building on her previous book, What Readers Really Do (coauthored with Vicki Vinton), Dorothy uses rich examples to provide insights into why reading conferences are essential to understanding students’ skills and needs, and how to ask the right questions to elicit key information about readers.

Focusing on process rather than product, Readers Front & Center gives you thoughtful ways to encourage complex thinking during independent reading, small-group time, and shared reading. Each chapter features a “Toolbox” section with practical suggestions for trying out ideas in the classroom.

Readers Front & Center will affirm your beliefs about what’s at the heart of good teaching and give you specific instructional steps that lead students to fully enter, absorb, and experience texts. You can now browse the entire book online.

Add comment March 20th, 2014

Comprehension strategies found in nature

Take a nature walk with author Laurie Rubin in our latest blog post to see how the thinking kids do in the natural world can transfer to their reading and writing skills.  Laurie found that the strategies kids use outdoors – making inferences, questioning, making connections, synthesizing information, monitoring for meaning, identifying important ideas – carried over into their reading. Preview Laurie’s book To Look Closely online now, especially chapters 1 and 6.

January 19, 2014
Six Mile Creek, Ithaca, NY
4:30PM, 30ºF
Cloudy, Dusk begins

0992I step out at 4:30 p.m. on a cold January afternoon and head for the creek. A gentle, light snow was falling all day and I feel its crunch under my feet as I move toward the street to avoid the icy footprints on the sidewalk.

I inhale the comforting smoke of a nearby wood fire and then I hear the crows overhead, flying south to land in a grove of distant trees that I can see from my kitchen window. For the past week or so they have been gathering at dusk to assemble an enormous Chinese paper cut, a black silhouette against the darkening sky.

I soon approach the cement wall along the boat launch site where, one evening long ago, I saw a sparkly rhinestone necklace transform into slug trails glittering in the light of the street lamps, the very trails I write about in To Look Closely. This time it is the five mallards in the creek that catch my eye—four males and one female. Three have their tushes in the air as they forage in the creek bed. The other two swim close by and when one of those opens its bill to emit a loud quack, he evokes images of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard proudly crossing the street in McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings. I turn my head for a moment and when I look back, magically, the five turn into nine as four more mallards swim quietly around a small island covered with brown bent-over grasses. I wonder where they sleep at night.

I remember to “look up” as I encouraged my students to do during a minute of silence in the natural world. The tinges of pink and purple in the clouds take me back to the paint-by-number oils I did in middle school, a time when no one taught me to “look up” or “to look closely” and so I mindlessly filled in those colors, never questioning their veracity.

I have the creek to myself today. I walk briskly on the wood-bark-covered path now hidden by the fallen snow and silently thank my neighbor Dan Krall, an associate professor of landscape architecture at Cornell University, for transforming this once-neglected, overgrown creek bank. It has been years now since we discovered Dan one Sunday morning mowing the lawn alongside the path. We thought it unusual that a city employee would be working on Sunday so we approached Dan and discovered that he was responsible for all the new plantings—trees and perennials—and the park benches that had been showing up bit by bit to create this well-tended, park-like neighborhood jewel. He shrugged off our effusive gratitude by saying, “Some people work out at the gym; this is my gym.”

I continue along the path and stop to pull down some seedpods, wondering if they are from a box elder tree. I note that the remaining snow on the tree branches is only on the northern side and that the hairy ropes of the poison ivy vines look innocuous in the winter. And then as I lean into a willow tree hollow looking for animal signs, I am surprised to be thinking about the chewing gum and bright pennies that Boo Radley leaves for Jem and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.

And that’s when it hits me. This is the very connection between literacy and the natural world that I nurtured after years of taking my second-grade students to the stream site in the woods behind our school. Here I am taking a walk and, without planning it, I find myself using the same reading comprehension strategies that I introduced to my students via their experiences in nature.

I am using my senses to smell the wood fire, see the sunset, feel the snow under my feet, and hear the crows, preparing me to visualize when I read. I am making connections with past experiences and with books I have read. Questions emerge about the tree seeds and the ducks. I infer that the snow on the southern side of the branches melted away from the heat of the sun.

When I walk in the natural world, my mind is quiet. I notice what I am thinking just as I asked my students to do when they were reading. “Reading is thinking,” I taught them. But first we practiced the language of metacognition outdoors. We connected a salamander with the discovery of three of the same species under one rock earlier in the year. We used a pile of scat to infer which animal may have been under a particular tree. We constantly asked the question, what happened here?

As I head home just half an hour later, the sky is mostly overcast but a first-quarter half moon shines down on me. The crows are still flying overhead.

Add comment January 22nd, 2014

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