School-Wide Book Love

book club

“Hey, Mrs. Miller. You know that book you came and talked to us about this morning? You think I could maybe grab a copy? It sounds kinda cool.” The boy is slouched in one of our armchairs, looking at his phone. He has never signed out a book that I can remember. I maintain my composure and smile at him–not too eagerly and without revealing my utter jaw-dropping surprise, lest I scare him away. I play it cool. So cool. “Sure thing,” I tell him. “Let me get one for you.” I say this as though he asks me for books all the time, but inside I scream in delight. These moments never cease to amaze me. And yet this happens once a month with at least one unexpected student when a new book is coming up for book club.

With an 8-12 population of approximately 400 students, nearly 80 of them participate in our book clubs. These are numbers I couldn’t have even imagined my first year, when 5 students approached me about starting a book club, and then never showed up to our after school meetings. And yet, here we are with almost 20% of our kids taking part.

This is important to me, because the amount of reading a student does–especially for pleasure–has a direct correlation to his or her academic achievement in all areas, not just English. Study after study has shown that a love for reading impacts everything from vocabulary acquisition and fluency to overall general content knowledge.  We all have a vested interest in encouraging school-wide book love. This should be important to everyone.

Since that first year, when I sat, discouraged by the empty table, changes have been made to the structure of book club. These are four of the major ways our book clubs have become successful:

  1. Everybody gets the book “sold” to them. 
    Once a month, I grab a copy of the book and make my way through every first period class, talking up the book. I work with an incredible faculty who allow me to interrupt their class at any point during that period for 5 minutes to do a book talk.  A bulletin board advertises the book; signs are put up around the school; and all-student emails go out as reminders to sign up.
  2. Book clubs are held during lunches.
    Instead of competing with after school sports and other obligations, we meet once a week during lunch. This also helps disperse the numbers, since meeting with 40 kids at a time is too much. With our organization, we have 10-15 kids at the table.
  3. Faculty investment.
    Our faculty believes in independent reading and supports the program. They talk up the books, sign out the books, grab and follow up with kids they think would be interested, and sometimes even join us for lunches. It’s an everybody-thing, not just a librarian-thing.
  4. Real World Connections
    Whenever possible, we try to Skype with an author, watch speeches by the author, connect the book to current events, or meet with specialists in an area. My current 8th grade book club is reading Prisoner B-3087, a Holocaust story based on a real man’s survival. After finishing next week, we are Skyping with the author one afternoon and then having a Hungarian WWII survivor come and meet with us.

Sometimes, when I am standing in front of a class, I look at the kids sitting there and try to fight becoming deflated–I realize that nobody in that group will ever sign up for book club, and I’m just wasting my time. I start to feel foolish and am tempted to sell it short and bail. But every single month, some new kid, like the one slouched in the chair, surprises me and shows up for a copy of the book. Every. Single. Month.

And sometimes it’s not until later–sometimes months go by and somebody strolls in and says, “Hey. Remember that book you talked to us about? You got an extra copy?” And it’s moments like this that my heart sings. Because as educators, we are often unsure of the seeds we are planting–sometimes we get thank yous years later, but more often than not, we never know the impact we made. So when a student shows up and remembers a book talk and wants to pick it up the following year, you know that it doesn’t matter if 80 kids signed up or just 8, because you suddenly have a quiet glimpse of a seed that was planted.

So, get out there. Get kids reading. Plant seeds. Make it important to everybody.

 

Need book suggestions to start with? These are some of our students’ favorite book club picks!

High School–
Everyday by David Leviathin
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
Maus by Artie Spiegelman
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Middle School–
Legend by Marie Lu
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
 See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

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STEM & the Library

confirmation bias

It is very common for History and English teachers to arrive at the library doorstep looking to collaborate, but a little less likely for Science and Math teachers. As a curriculum and literacy nerd, I am always looking for the intersection of STEM subjects and research, because I believe fervently that literacy across the curriculum improves student learning.

So when my 7th grade teacher and I had the opportunity to join an ISKME (Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education) initiative that paired STEM teachers with library resources, we jumped. The goal was to create a research-based project that used Open Educational Resources. Together, we designed a unit that immersed students in the study of confirmation bias.

To understand confirmation bias, one has to acknowledge that we all have biases, something most people do not want to admit. But confirmation bias is a little more complex–in confirmation bias, we glean information, read and interpret data, dismiss statistics, or just push a little to make thing say what we want. This is obviously a troublesome practice in science.

We started the unit by having students read two articles: one saying climate change is real; the other saying it wasn’t, both using data to prove their points. We then did a close reading activity where students pulled and broke down the data, assessing its credibility. They drew conclusions that the points made in the “Climate Change Is Not Real” article either did not have data to support it or pulled small pieces of data from long term collections, making it unreliable. They quickly realized–this is what bias looks like.

The following day, students moved around to different stations, reading case studies, looking at cartoons, and taking part in small experiments to solidify their understanding of why and how confirmation bias exists. By the end of that class, they were ready to apply their knowledge.

Students then spent time on ProCon.org looking for science issues that were relevant to their lives or that they were interested in. Topics like–Are vaccinations safe? Should animals be used for experimentation? Is vegetarianism a preferred diet? Should we use alternative energy? Are cell phones safe? They took a stance and found data that supports their stance. But then they had to pull data that supported the other side. From this point on, they were in an internal struggle–which data was the correctly-used data?

In the end, students drew cartoons or wrote paragraphs that showed how data could be used to support both arguments. Starting the year like this was powerful–they have the mindset to think like critical scientists. But what surprised us most was that they began to apply this understanding of confirmation bias to their greater world–politics, school issues, the news. We received an email from a parent saying that the subject came up over dinner and she was so grateful for their conversation and how this work has extended itself into her child’s understanding of the world.

I have never walked away from co-teaching without becoming a better teacher myself. This time was no exception. My eyes were opened to the inroads scientific thinking has to other curricula, and how relevant the material can (and should) be to students’ lives. The greatest lesson I learned was that science can spark passion, and literacy gives students the route to understand and express those passions. I never considered myself a scientist…until now.