Or, what happens in 6th period stays in 6th period.


So, my first ever class of seniors have graduated and I poured my heart and soul (and the blood of many paper cuts) into making them book page graduation garlands. It was a labor of love for a class that I was truly blessed to teach this year.




At first, I was hesitant to teach seniors as I considered myself strongly in the role of middle school educator. But I've taught everything from K-9th grade, and it was only for one class period/day so I thought, why not?!


I am so glad that I did. I have posted several times this year about this class. What started out as a class of predominately non-readers, turned into a class of thoughtful, engaged READERS!


Here are some highlights of our year together:

1) "WHY DOES MY SCHEDULE SAY LITERATURE FOR MY ELECTIVE?!" Yes, this is how I was greeted on day one by many students who were forced to be in the class because they needed to recover a literature credit. I was scared that this did not bode well for our time together.


2) "What happens in 6th period, stays in 6th period." While I'm still a little disappointed we did not make class shirts with this slogan, this quickly became our class motto. "We" discovered that reading was FUN and that our class dynamic was great for discussion and they didn't want it disrupted by late-semester transfers once word got out that they were in the "best elective." (Okay, we weren't really this mean and would have welcomed other students, but the school didn't allow schedule changes anyway, so if was fun to pretend we were a secret club).


3) Breakup with a Book. By far, one of the best in-class activities I have ever done!


4) They started recommending books to their friends in other classes! You can see their Top 10 picks for High School readers here.


5) Book Character TED Talks: Every Tuesday was TED Talk Tuesday in our class. (As spring progressed, this turned to commencement speeches by authors). For their final reflection project, I had them pick a character from one of the books they read and outline a TED Talk they would give. WOW! So impressed with the reasons they picked and what they thought those characters would say.


6) Watching the students identify as READERS! Just one example: the girl who started out proud that she "hadn't read a book since 4th grade" was so proud every time she finished a book (which at last count was 10 or 11 books for spring semester) that she would announce loudly "Ms. Butler, I just finished another book!" every time the principal walked by the classroom. She was only partially finished with Sarah Dessen's "Saint Anything" on the last day of classes and did nothing but read during our class party, so I let her take it home to finish with the promise that she attempt to return it at some point as it was my own personal copy. (FYI, she returned it to the school today). She would always joke, "Mrs. Yusko, I'm your success story, right?" Without prompting, during one of our final Free Read Fridays, they started an informal discussion about how their views on reading had changed over the course of our class. I sat off to the side and listened. One young man in class turned to me and said, "Mrs. Yusko, I bet this makes you happy to hear." #myworkhereisdone


7) We don't teach for the glory, and definitely not for the paycheck, but when you receive heartfelt notes (and emails) from students, it's ALL WORTH IT. #whyiteach #imnotcryingyourecrying








No really, THANK YOU! It's been one of my favorite classes in my entire teaching career.


#contemporarylit #highschool #teaching #whyiteach #myworkhereisdone #reading #classroom #whyiteachtuesday

Besides talking about books at my #yalit seminars, I also share real-world examples of student success stories, classroom activities, and how I incorporate and promote reading during the school day.


I can talk about the importance of CHOICE reading ad nauseum, and could probably write a dissertation on the topic at this point. So instead, I thought I would focus this post on student responses to reading. One of the questions I get asked frequently is "how do you know if they've read the book?" I'm going to be honest, READING is the point of the class for me and what I consider the most important. But you're right, schools require us to grade something, and since I hate reading logs, here are some ideas that I do throughout the year.


1) Free Read Friday: Barring assemblies, field days, or standardized testing, our Fridays are spent READING! As long as students are on task, we spend the 45-ish minutes of class "silent" reading. (All of us...teacher included). First of all, I will fight any administrator that says this is a waste of time. Luckily I don't have to at my school. Now, before you think that I've cracked the code to keep a class full of teenagers silent, on task, and reading for 45 minutes, I haven't. Fridays are days where I have reading conversations with students, do formal and informal booktalks as needed, give students the opportunity to write book reviews and tell other students about what they're reading, and more. Of course, the majority of the time is spent reading, and I'll be honest, most of my students honor this time and their classmates by finding a place to relax and read. I think most of them appreciated the "break" from the stresses of other classes. Do students get off task? Sure. Are there students who don't read? Sometimes. But as with any classroom, you deal with that as necessary.


2) Reading Response Projects: Besides informal conversations, book reviews, and the occasional in-class on-demand writing prompt, students are required to complete a "project" after their reading. (Middle school and high school had different guidelines for number of books read vs projects completed but every one had to complete at least a few each semester). At the start of the year I offered students a list of choices for these projects as well as guidelines/rubrics. They included anything from one-pagers, book commercials, and poetry journals... to comic strips, quote posters, and Snapchat stories. Here are a few samples of my high school class' projects this spring:


Digital art representing Moxie by Jen Mathieu

One pager for Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner

One pager for The Girl Who Was Supposed To Die by April Henry

Comic strip for a poem in The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Quote poster for Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Playlist for The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Part of the script of a book commercial for The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

Comic Strip for Treasure Island

Persuasive presentation on why I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson is the "best book ever."

3) Student Created Projects: Besides giving them a list of acceptable project ideas, I invite students to come up with their own (teacher-approved) ideas for projects that demonstrate reading. This is how, for the last project of the year, I was convinced by my seniors to let them bring in food that represented their book (because yes, they wanted a class party and we weren't technically allowed to have one). Let me tell you, the level of thought that went into these food choices was TERRIFIC and definitely showed their comprehension of the books.


4) Volunteering at Literacy Events: True, it's voluntary and not graded, but I encourage my students to volunteer at our monthly Feed n Read events. This is a great opportunity for younger students in our community to interact with teens and tweens and to have positive, shared reading experiences. It has the added benefit of being an enjoyable experience for my students as well. I always offer the option to trade out one "assignment" per semester in exchange for volunteering at one event. Let's be real, life gets busy, and there are a myriad of reasons why students may not be able to complete an assignment. But our Feed n Reads always need volunteers and the younger kids LOVE reading with the teens so it's actually a win for more than just me. And most of my students that volunteer come each month, not just the one time...proof that they secretly enjoy reading with the kids.


5) Book Character TED Talk: We did TED Talk Tuesday in our classroom each week. You can read more about that here. As a final project, I had my Contemporary Lit students choose a book character (from a book they read this year) that they would want to give a TED Talk, and then outline the key points or message that would be included. Again, WOW! I received some amazing responses. Definitely an assignment I'm keeping in the rotation.


What are some of your favorite reading-related classroom activities?



#classroom #contemporarylit #studentchoice #choicereading #TEDTalk #FeednRead #studentwork #highschool #middleschool #reading #freereadfriday

Updated: May 23, 2019


Monday was the last day with my senior Contemporary Lit class. While I'm still trying to unpack what an amazing experience it was to teach this group (and how much I'm going to miss our 6th period class), I thought I would highlight their TOP BOOK PICKS for the year.


If you haven't been following along with us, this was a very unique class. I will reflect more on our time together in a future post (or twelve), probably on the eve of their graduation ceremony this weekend. Until then, here are some things you need to know about them to understand just how important it is that they are recommending books!

1) At the start of the class, only 3 of them were in it by choice.

2) Many of the students were in the class in order to recover a literature credit before graduation.

3) Most of class did NOT identify as readers initially. In fact, some of them were quite proud of the fact that it had been years since they actually read a book.


Welcome to my 6th period!

But they came in with open minds, and we talked, and we read, and there was access to books, and there was CHOICE.


And they READ! And they RECOMMENDED books to friends in other classes.

And their teacher may have teared up on more than one occasion. And so, we present their picks for the "Best Books" for High School Readers. In no particular order...

1) The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. This book made the rounds in the classroom; boys, girls, EVERYONE. (No joke, I think I have photos of about 40% of the class reading this book at some point). Students judged other students for “judging the book by its cover.” We had impromptu class discussions about it. One young man used this book as his final reflection project: “What character would you want to give a TED Talk?”

2) Scythe by Neal Shusterman. In all the years I’ve taught (20!), I’ve never had a student finish a book out of spite. One young man, who ”likes Sci-Fi and Fantasy” finished a book (which shall not be named) that I recommended to him SOLELY so he could tell me how “cliche” it was. Again, welcome to my 6th period. I recommended 3 other titles which he abandoned after a few chapters. And then my brain actually started to function and I handed him Scythe! WHY DIDN’T I START WITH IT?! He blew through this book and the second one in a week. He called it “my all-time favorite” in his final reflection. On the last day of class I got to show him the cover and sneak peek of book #3!

3) I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. One student did a 14 slide PowerPoint presentation about why this book is “amazing!”

4) The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Between the print and audio version of this book, I’d say that 25% of the class read this one. And encouraged others outside our class to read it as well. This one also sparked some great projects and one student wants Xiomara to give a TED Talk.

5) ALL the books by April Henry! No one got my students reading this semester more than April Henry. Her books made the rounds in and out of our class, and cost me quite a bit of my Scholastic bonus points so I could keep her books on our shelves! Worth. It. Artwork, impromptu class discussions, and more became a part of our class. See previous post here.

6) ALL the books by Jenny Han! Oh the joy when I walked in to class one day and several students were discussing the Netflix adaptation of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” I simply said, “you know it’s a book, right? Actually, it’s a trilogy.” And so, all three books were promptly finished!

7) ALL the books by Sarah Dessen! See #6 for how they found Sarah Dessen. After devouring Jenny Han, I may have dropped hints about the amazingness that is Sarah Dessen. I’d say they’ve made it through 3 of her books and are planning on reading the rest OVER THE SUMMER!

8) Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. (And Ghost). Talk about impromptu discussion and debate. Long Way Down definitely did that! This was one that they also recommended to friends outside the classroom. (I added Ghost by Reynolds to the list as I started the year with 10 copies of it in my classroom library and I currently have NONE).

9) Moxie by Jen Mathieu. This was a much needed book for several students in class at a time when they were suffering through a “World View” class that was anything but worldly in the viewpoints being discussed. #moxiegirlsfightback



10) Does the teacher get a vote? I say yes. So, my dear 6th period, this is the book that each of you will receive from me. With PAGES of my favorite quotes marked (with bookmarks, because I'm not a heathen who dog-ears pages). For Every One by Jason Reynolds.

“Dreams don’t have timelines,

deadlines,

and aren’t always in

straight lines.

JUMP ANYWAY.

...

This letter is for us all,

to remind us

that we are many.

That we are right

for trying.

That purpose is real.

That making it is possible.”


What are the most popular books at your high school?


Do you have a favorite book on this list?


Happy Reading!

#yalit #highschool #contemporarylit #classroom #booklist #top10 #favorites #bestbooks #studentfavorite #bookaccess #choicereading

WHAT YOUR COLLEAGUES ARE SAYING:

Guadelupe, Teacher, CA

The knowledge and passion for books for EVERY reader  has hooked me! She is in the classroom and just gets readers.

Dee, Teacher-Librarian, CA

Wowza! One of the best, packed workshops, filled with RELEVANT content, delivered in a well organized, engagingly paced seminar. HIGHLY RECOMMEND to librarians and lovers of literature.

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Shauna reinforces the idea that there are two types of students: those who like to read and those who haven't found the right book yet. She offers a plethora of resources and titles for both!

Guadelupe, Teacher, CA

The knowledge and passion for books for EVERY reader  has hooked me! She is in the classroom and just gets readers.

Dee, Teacher-Librarian, CA

Wowza! One of the best, packed workshops, filled with RELEVANT content, delivered in a well organized, engagingly paced seminar. HIGHLY RECOMMEND to librarians and lovers of literature.

Lindsey, English Teacher, TX

Excellent content, EXCEPTIONAL presenter! The entire presentation was engaging and meaningful. I am excited to have the opportunity to take all of these amazing titles and introduce my students to them.

Guadelupe, Teacher, CA

The knowledge and passion for books for EVERY reader  has hooked me! She is in the classroom and just gets readers.

Dee, Teacher-Librarian, CA

Wowza! One of the best, packed workshops, filled with RELEVANT content, delivered in a well organized, engagingly paced seminar. HIGHLY RECOMMEND to librarians and lovers of literature.

Lindsey, English Teacher, TX

Excellent content, EXCEPTIONAL presenter! The entire presentation was engaging and meaningful. I am excited to have the opportunity to take all of these amazing titles and introduce my students to them.

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