Review of The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo

Book Reviews Oakland Writing Project

readingstrategiesbookDuring the second half of the school year, I opened my classroom up to a doctoral student from the University of Michigan who was studying what untaught and sometimes intangible things make teachers successful.  It was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot about myself as a teacher through the reflective nature of the process.  As compensation for my time and energy, I was presented with a $100 gift card for Amazon.  I knew exactly what I would buy: books!  One book, in particular, was on my wish list, Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book.  I had seen the publisher, Heinemann, promoting it on Twitter, and it looked really useful and practical for teachers on a day to day basis.

The book arrived in early June, and I set it aside to look at once the school year ended.  In mid-June, I was a presenter in the 6-8 Informational Reading & Writing strand at the MiELA Network Institute.  I hadn’t yet looked through The Reading Strategies Book, but I threw it into my crate just in case I got some extra time.  My co-presenter, Cory Snider (@sniderc), and I wanted to be especially mindful of the needs of our participants since a number of them were returning from the year prior. So as we were looking through the exit comments at the end of day two and thinking about our plans for day three, I grabbed The Reading Strategies Book out of my crate and started skimming it.

Based on the reviews I had seen, I had a hunch the book was going to be good, but I didn’t know just how good it would be.  As Cory was busy trying to put the finishing touches on our presentation for the next day, I kept yelling, “Cory! Look at this one! It’s perfect!” or “Cory! Isn’t this just the best idea?!”  While he did agree that the book seemed pretty great, I think he probably could have done without my outbursts every 30 seconds.  We ended up incorporating a number of Serravallo’s strategies into our plans for the next day, and the participants were just as excited as we were about the potential of this book.  One group of participants is even planning to use it in their PLC’s next book study based on our recommendation.

The beauty of The Reading Strategies Book is in its simplicity, consistency, and organization.  The 300 (!) strategies are broken up by goal, which mimic goals that we might have as teachers as we help students navigate various text types.  These goals range from support for early readers to comprehending fiction in a variety of ways to improving comprehension of nonfiction to deepening students’ speaking and listening skills.  Serravallo has organized her book so that each strategy fits onto one page, which includes:

  • a description of the strategy itself
  • a teaching tip or the language she might use in a lesson
  • prompts to use when talking with students
  • an image that shows an anchor chart or sample student work (I found these especially useful in helping me visualize what a strategy actually looks like in a classroom)
  • a suggested level, based on the Fountas and Pinnell Text Level Gradient (I can see teachers adapting them up or down to fit the needs to various students at various levels)
  • the genre or text type with which to use the strategy
  • the skill the strategy helps develop
  • a citation if the strategy came from somewhere else

I have so many pages bookmarked, especially in the nonfiction sections.  I anticipate using this book regularly, and I’ve already told a number of my colleagues about it.  A science teacher in my building even saw a tweet I made about it and wants to see how it can help her support her students’ understanding of science texts.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMJianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is an ELA and Title 1 teacher at Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield.  She is a member of the AVID Site Team and Continuous School Improvement Team at her school, among other things.  She is also a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine Library Media Connection.


Review of Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World

Book Reviews Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

As I mentioned in my review of Upstanders by Smokey Daniels and Sara Ahmed, I read a lot of professional books, especially in the summer.  It’s late July as I’m writing this, and I’m on my eighth book of the summer, half of which have been professional books to grow my knowledge as a teacher (stay tuned for a review of Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book).

Connected ReadingAfter writing the review of Upstanders, I asked Delia DeCourcy, one of Oakland Schools’ literacy consultants, if she had any books she thought I might like to read and review.  She sent over Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World by Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks, and I immediately knew this book would be right up my alley. Turner and Hicks begin the book with the “NCTE Policy Research Brief: Reading Instruction for All Students,” which acts as a framework and rationale for teaching students how to be connected readers and is referenced throughout the book.

Because teaching students to be skillful readers of digital texts is new to many teachers, Turner and Hicks carefully ease us into this world of connected reading by writing about their experiences, the experiences we as readers might have had, and how teachers might become more connected readers, for the purpose of knowing what their students will experience, as well as for simply growing their personal learning network (PLN).  The authors include requisite theory for their work, then dig into what many teachers want from a professional book: practical application that can be used in the classroom.  Turner and Hicks do not disappoint: Connected Reading is full of projects, ideas, and actual lesson plans that teachers can easily make their own and implement.  Topics range from digital citizenship to making decisions about how best to search for information to collaborating on texts being read in class.

What may be the best part of this book is that it embodies the very principles that the authors espouse: the book itself (although a print text) is a great example of what connected reading could be even if students do not have digital texts.  Connected Reading is filled with QR codes that take readers to additional content, much of it multimedia, but also connects to the authors’ wiki page, which offers additional resources and ways to connect and extend the conversation.QR Codes

I started reading this book in the last few weeks of school, so I didn’t have much time to integrate its ideas into my practice, but I did notice myself becoming more aware of how students’ reading changed across platforms.   I recall a distinct moment near the end of the year when I must have been giving directions, and I started saying something about how their reading of our last book was going to be different because they would be reading it and annotating digitally, and more important, collaboratively.

noteable pdfFor our last unit, I knew that I wanted to try out some of the ideas from Connected Reading so that come September, I could dive in more completely.  Since my district was not in the position to purchase ebooks, I was given permission to scanin its entirety the informational book we were reading as a class and post it chapter by chapter to Google Classroom, which is a closed system and accessible only to students in my class.  (While I was posting to a closed system, there does seem to be a gray area in terms of copyright. I was using the scanned copy solely for educational purposes and Turner and Hicks even encourage teachers to have students scan or take screenshots of individual pages for annotating and collaborating.)

After scanning a chapter and posting it to Google Classroom as a PDF, students downloaded the chapter onto their Chromebooks using the Chrome extension Notable PDF.  A quick note about Notable: this is one of my favorite and most used Chrome extensions both personally and professionally.  It allows users to highlight, underline, strikethrough, and make comments on PDF documents that can be saved permanently.  It also includes Google Drive integration.  Depending on how a document is downloaded from Google Classroom, all students in a class or a group could be collaborating on the same document or it can be shared between student partners as well.  Similar to the commenting feature in Google Docs, each person’s name shows up when he/she makes a comment so that students can easily see what their classmates are thinking as they read.

As my classes worked through the MAISA informational reading and writing units, we would practice various annotating skills depending on what our purpose was at the time.  Sometimes students read in partnerships, sometimes they read independently, and sometimes we read as a whole class, annotating together and showing our collective thinking.  Because students had such an intimate knowledge of the text through their annotations, their final project was to decide on a topic mentioned in the book they felt could have used more explanation and write their own “insert” chapter about that topic that mimicked the text features of the original book.  Examples of this project can be found here.

As I think about next school year, I will definitely be incorporating Turner and Hicks’ ideas about teaching students to be skillful readers of digital texts with lessons on digital citizenship, setting up a digital reading life, looking into freely available digital copies of texts, and ways to help students navigate this digital information world in which they are already immersed.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMJianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is an ELA and Title 1 teacher at Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield.  She is a member of the AVID Site Team and Continuous School Improvement Team at her school, among other things.  She is also a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine Library Media Connection.

Review of Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts & Minds with Inquiry

Book Reviews Oakland Writing Project

9780325053592Anyone who knows me knows that I am a voracious reader (comes with the English teacher territory, right?).  Anyone who knows me really well knows that I’m not just reading books for pleasure, but that I’m a voracious reader of professional books.  Case in point: I read five books about grading last summer. Riveting stuff.

A few months back, a colleague from the MiELA Network conference suggested I read the book Upstanders because it might help with my conference session this summer.  The title and back cover information intrigued me, so I immediately ordered the book and awaited its arrival.  My reading rate during the school year is definitely much slower than during the summer because there is so much else I have to do, but by any standard, I devoured Upstanders.

Of all of the professional books I have read, this is the first that felt as if it were written directly for me and the type of teacher I am.  I could see myself as a teacher in the pages, but more than that, I could see a better version of my teacher self in the pages.  I felt like I had a model of the type of teacher I want to be that wasn’t a huge leap from where I already am.  Many times when I’m reading a professional book, I’ll want to do something the way the authors do, but I’ll know that that isn’t me or that the change seems too overwhelming, which leads me to not change at all.  I was so enamored with this book that I tweeted at and sent emails to the authors–and they responded!

HarveyDanielsUpstanders is written as a collaboration between Daniels and Ahmed and offers a glimpse into the workings of Ahmed’s classroom, since she is still a practicing teacher.  As the title would suggest, inquiry is a hallmark of Ahmed’s classroom, so I decided to try out some of her and Daniels’ ideas.  To get her students engaged in inquiry work consistently, she has them involved in “mini-inquiries,” which are “quick exercise[s] in honoring our curiosity and finding out information about things that puzzle us in the world” (106).  Mini-inquiries can take anywhere from a few minutes to a class period to complete, as they are supposed to be what the name suggests: mini.  Sometimes Ahmed’s students are looking into a topic she suggested or a topic that grew out of a class discussion.  Other times, students are researching something they are interested in finding out more about.  I really liked this idea and wanted to incorporate it into my practice, but I worried about taking time away from our already packed curriculum.  As the authors suggested, though, a great way to try a mini-inquiry is on one of those days right before a break where you’ve finished a unit but don’t want to start another one. So the day before mid-winter break, I found myself with the perfect opportunity to try a mini-inquiry.

That day, I began the lesson by talking with my kids about how we were going to try something new, and that we would research the random things we’ve always wanted to know. They kind of looked at me funny, so as an example, I told them a story about how whenever I walk by this particular building in the winter, I see that the water has frozen in motion as it came out of the gutter.  I always thought that I wanted to be there at the exact moment the water went from a liquid to a solid since the ice looks like a frozen waterfall.  I then went on to explain that if I wanted to make this a researchable question (which we had talked about in the argument paragraph unit we had just finished), I might say, “How does moving water freeze?”  I then asked students to brainstorm the things that they had always wondered but never bothered to look up or learn about.  After students had talked with a partner, we created a class list of wonderings to keep up throughout the year (see the image below).  Some of the wonderings are very profound and some of them are less serious, which was OK for that day’s purpose.

Whole class generated list of our wonderings

Whole class generated list of our wonderings

 Once students turned their topics into research questions and I briefly modelled how I might go about looking for information related to my question, they took out their Chromebooks and began researching.  After just a few minutes, hands started popping up:

“Mrs. Taylor, come LOOK at this!”

“You have to see this!”

“Can you believe this is true?!”

“That is not what I expected to find out!”

As students began finding information that related to their questions, I urged them to post it on our Google Classroom wall under the thread I had begun with my question and an article about it.

Google Classroom wall

Google Classroom wall

As the hour ended, many students had found some kind of answer to their question and shared with the whole class, many of them fascinated by each other’s findings.  I had not anticipated this, but as I was wrapping up the hour and talking through what students had done, I noticed that within one hour, students had truly gone through the entire research process in an abbreviated form that we had spent many weeks going through with the argument paragraph.  Students brainstormed topics they were interested in learning more about, created research questions, sorted through various sources on the Internet to choose good ones, and shared their learning with others.

As I envision future research projects, both this year and in the future, I can see how engaging students in mini-inquires will help pique their interest and allow them to continue to hone their research skills.  This could be a great way to start a unit or allow students to learn about different topics within a unit.  In fact, the Common Core asks that students be involved in short research projects throughout the year that focus specifically on creating research questions and finding information to support them (  Mini-inquiries could be a great way to achieve this in addition to all of their other benefits.

Daniels, Harvey, and Sara K. Ahmed. Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry. New York: Heineman, 2014.

JScreenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMianna Taylor is an ELA and Title 1 teacher at Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield.  She is a member of the AVID Site Team and Continuous School Improvement Team at her school, among other things.  She is also a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine Library Media Connection.

Google Classroom, Part 2: The Digital Writer’s Notebook

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

Note: In “Google Classroom, Part 1: Going Paperless,” I wrote about the change to a (mostly) paperless classroom once my district went 1:1 with Chromebooks and I started using Google Classroom.  In this entry, I discuss how I am grappling with no longer using a traditional, paper writer’s notebook.

471520595The writer’s notebook is almost a sacred, mythical element of the writer’s workshop.  It is where students’ writing lives take shape and are documented over the course of a year.  In my classroom, the writer’s notebook held everything, and I mean EVERYTHING.  Any paper I handed out was immediately taped or glued into the notebook, even if it had to be turned on its side or folded over two times.  The writer’s notebook was our textbook. So when I heard each one of my students would be getting a Chromebook, I was excited about the possibilities and what that could mean for student writing.  But what nagged at me was the loss of the traditional, tangible writer’s notebook.

I spent the summer asking other ELA teachers how they planned to use Chromebooks in conjunction with their traditional notebooks and searching the web to see what other teachers of reading and writing were doing.  Nothing that I found was exactly what I was hoping to find.  I wanted to see or read about someone who fully transitioned their students to a digital writer’s notebook, but I just couldn’t find what I thought would suit my and my students’ needs.  I really didn’t want to start the year having kids split between the traditional notebook and their Chromebooks, but I wasn’t sure what else to do.

But we did start the year just like that: split between the two worlds.  I was afraid kids would feel really disorganized (maybe I was afraid I would be the one to feel disorganized!), but they seemed to take it in stride.  As I started using Google Classroom daily to assign work and give students copies of documents, I found myself thinking less and less about the traditional writer’s notebook, and not because I was actively trying to stop using it.  It was almost an unconscious decision to stop using the hard copy notebook.  I didn’t intentionally mean for it to happen; it just kind of did, and everything was OK.  Kids didn’t stop brainstorming or drafting or collaborating.  They were still doing those things, but in a different way, maybe a better way, and in a way that possibly felt more natural to them. 

164404249Instead of kids bringing their notebooks to one another and reluctantly allowing a partner to write on their prized draft, kids are sharing documents with one another and setting the editing level based on their comfort, with many choosing to only allow their partners to comment on a document.  They no longer have to worry that someone is going to “mess up” their paper.  They can simply focus on the comments, and especially relish hitting the “Resolve” button when they have revised something.  I think it’s more than just reading the comments and making changes, though; kids are having conversations via their comments about writing as well as having conversations about their writing out loud.  The conversations about writing are multilayered.  If you’ve ever seen a teen text and talk to someone at the same time, you know that holding multiple conversations on various platforms is a way of life.  And students also seem to be more responsive to my suggestions because my comments don’t physically change their writing; they are seen as just that: comments and suggestions.  

We recently held a parent workshop about using the Chromebooks, and the parents commented about how writing and taking notes electronically felt unnatural to them, but to our students it feels natural because this is how they have grown up. Despite the successes we’ve had in moving much of our work to Google Classroom, I still worry sometimes if I will suddenly feel the loss of the traditional writer’s notebook in a way that I can’t fathom right now.  I wonder if there will be some intangible loss in not being able to turn the pages of a notebook and see the progression of a writer. I wonder if students’ thinking will become too discrete and disjointed because the flow from idea to idea and unit to unit is lost.

185432726I had toyed with the idea of having students use a single, running Google Doc to keep a notebook, but that doesn’t work as easily as a traditional notebook does, especially when using Google Classroom, because some of the documents would be in Classroom and some would be in the running Google Doc.  I thought toggling between the two would be difficult.  Obviously, no single platform seems to be perfect (it’s unlikely that anything will ever meet every need/want). Despite the misgivings I may have, my students do not seem to be having the same internal struggles that I am having.  Using their Chromebooks has quickly become second nature, with the biggest complaint being that the WiFi isn’t working quickly enough!

JScreenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMianna Taylor is an ELA and Title 1 teacher at Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield.  She is a member of the AVID Site Team and Continuous School Improvement Team at her school, among other things.  She is also a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine Library Media Connection.

Webinar – How Student Blogs Support Literacy Learning & the Common Core

Facilitator: Stephanie Dulmage, Technology/Curriculum Integration Specialist,
West Bloomfield, MI School Districy
Monday, February 16, 2015  7-8pm EST (optional follow up discussion from 8-9pm)
recording    slides     resources

Learn about the what, why, and how of bringing blogging into your classroom during this interactive webinar.  We will explore how writing in a digital environment shifts student thinking about audience, purpose, and content, as well as ways to seamlessly incorporate blogging into classroom practice.  Participants will learn about a variety of blogging platforms and things to consider when choosing one for their own students.

Stephanie Dulmage is a Technology/Curriculum Integration Specialist in the West Bloomfield School District. She has 27 years of classroom experience and 2 years serving at the district level to support technology integration and school improvement. Her most recent accomplishments include: participation in the Galileo Leadership Academy, earning an  Education Specialist degree in Educational Leadership, and organizing EdcampOU and Edcamp WBWL. She’s passionate about educational leadership, learning, learner engagement, and leveraging technology to transform the learning environment with a focus on: increasing student voice and choice, ownership and personalization of learning, and learner contributions. Stephanie is an active blogger with a strong presence in Twitter educational learning networks and chats. She hosts three blogs and the #800voices Galileo Leadership Academy chat.

Twitter ID: @stephe1234