Category Archives: Book Club

Relaxing Into Some Professional Summer Reading: Accessible Mathematics

I hope that my Canadian friends had a lovely Canada Day and I hope that my American friends have some fun plans for their upcoming holiday as well.

Friday was my last day at school and I’ve never left my room so tidy and organized! I guess that’s what comes with more teaching years under my belt! I will have only 18 students next year in my homeroom and the entire group coming in is just a lovely bunch of kids and so I feel completely at peace and ready to relax this summer.

I must say, I am making the most of my time off so far! Last weekend was busy. I went out for drinks and took in some live music with a few teacher friends. I love to just sit and chat! We had a family BBQ at my sister’s on Sunday. Hubby and I went on a “park hop” with the boys on the holiday Monday, driving around letting them play at different parks that we don’t usually get to. A picnic lunch, ice cream and fireworks in the evening made it “the best day ever” in the words of my five-year old. Who needs Disney World? Wink  Like I said, I really feel like I’m making the most of my time off so far.

accessible mathOf course, part of my summer routine (as I’ve mentioned before) is to do some professional summer reading. Some day, I will begin working toward a Master’s in Education, but until then, I’ll further my own learning in this way. I’m just about finished of Accessible Mathematics: Ten Instructional Shifts That Raise Student Achievement and it really is a super little book, recommended by Andrea @ For The Love of Teaching Math. Last summer, I read and posted about a professional math resource as well,   Guided Math: A Framework for Mathematics Instruction and I incorporated some of author Laney Sammon’s ideas into my classroom. I’m actually seeing ways to mesh some of what I did with her book last year, into what I hope to do in my room next year, which is awesome!

Now, I’m not going to give you a play by-play of every single chapter in Accessible Mathematics, but I will pass along some of my take home messages in my next few blog posts (original blog post here). Actually, I’m super excited because I have two more math resources on the way that were recommended by teacher friends (What’s Your Math Problem and Minds on Mathematics should be arriving in the next two weeks) and a few others on my wish list:




So, Accessible Mathematics is broken down into ten “instructional shifts”. The first shift is something that I do, but need to do more of and need to do more systematically.  The first “instructional shift” is to build more review into every class. I do review, don’t get me wrong. However, I am guilty of moving on at times, rather than looking back as much as I should, simply because of the amount of material we have to cover. I’m sure that you know where I’m coming from.

The way that Leinwand suggests using review is quick, practical and something that I know I can do. I’m going to try beginning each class with a five problem review. I’ll have students use a half scribbler for these review problems and may collect them periodically. However, I hope to gather the information that I need by circulating around the room, the vast majority of the time. Five problems, five minutes – that’s my plan. If it takes a student five minutes to find their scribbler – they’ll have to catch the review the following day (although that STILL gives me information on their organization and perhaps even signifies an avoidance behavior).

I find that getting classes settled can waste a lot of teaching minutes, especially when I’m teaching in a room other than my own or have a chatty class. Beginning class this way should settle most students more quickly (in theory) and get us focused for the amazing lesson ahead (I’m sure that’s what they’ll be thinking).

As far as material, I’m thinking about using multiplication/division facts, fractions, integers – really hit home with the skills that I need my students to master before they leave my room, or that they were missing when they came in. I also want to make more of an effort to go back to concepts from previously taught chapters as much as possible to try to keep everything that we’re learning at the surface and  let very little settle to the bottom of their easily preoccupied brains!

I have a few resources that I plan to use to address these review problems. I actually found a great (although old) resource when I was tidying up my room at the end of the year. It was a mental math resource from the board, from at least 8 or 9 years ago. Still good stuff, though. I also have a book called Seventh Grade Math Minutes that has some perfect material in it. I may also use the 6th grade version. And then, my actual math text does have some “Getting Started” problems that I could incorporate as well. That’s what  love most about “Accessible Mathematics”. I am motivated to make some small shifts, and have been forced to do a mental inventory of my resources and how I may better use them. I don’t have to buy anything to make the shifts that I plan for September, I just need to use my time and resources in a way that (hopefully) will be even more effective!

Please add the titles of any other middle school math resources that you think my readers and I should look into. I’m hoping to be a part of a Math PLC (Professional Learning Community) in the next school year and so I’m collecting resources/titles. Also, please give me your best ideas/what you do to review in your classrooms. I’m open to ideas and methods that work, from you, the experts!

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Book Club Update: They had glimmers!

Lessons From The Middle, canadian teacher blog,book club discussionI posted yesterday about the issue that I’ve been having with my students just not having the types of discussions that I hoped that they would have (spontaneously, of course) in their book club groups. I told you that I was going to try a few things (I’m still open to more suggestions) and so I just couldn’t wait to let you know what happened in class today.

I started off by talking about their book clubs, if they were enjoying them and so on. I got TONS of insight in this little discussion as to why they were not necessarily “Chatty Cathy” in their book club groups.

One boy said that his book is a good book, but he just doesn’t identify with the female character who’s from another country and has run away from home. Fair enough.

Another student voiced something similar, although he just doesn’t enjoy the book. His character has very different interests than him and he finds it hard to read about someone who is nothing like himself.

One of the girls said that there just wasn’t enough drama in the book for her to enjoy it – nothing was really happening.

Another girl is really enjoying the same book. She said that no one else in her group seems to like the book as much as she does and it’s hard to have a conversation when the other people aren’t into it as much as her.

Another girl said that she was hoping that there would be more to the plot – that the book seems kind of boring and therefore hard to discuss.

Okay, so mystery one – solved. I was under the impression that some of the students were enjoying the books more than they are and that is part of the problem. So how do you get kids to keep up the discussion on a book that they would normally abandon if they’d chosen it on their own? Answers…please?

Today I also showed them a video of a group of students having a book club discussion from the DVD set that we have at the school, mentioned in yesterday’s post. It was a perfect example modelling what their discussions could and should look like. This helped out a lot. They were very honest saying that their discussions look like that sometimes, but definitely not very often. They have been stuck in a turn-taking style of discussion, but they admit they’d like to have more of a conversation style. So…we’re working on it! The first step is identifying the problem – and we’ve got that covered!

 I did give my students their “think marks” as mentioned yesterday and most said that they much rather them over the response that I was getting them to do in their scribbler. I put them on bright paper too, to help “sell” them as a little different. I mentioned the stickies to them and a few thought that they’d like to try them, while others thought that they’d probably lose them.

Next, rather than doing our read aloud first as usual, I had them read their assigned sections, use their “during reading” think marks and then meet with their book club group (rather than having the process span over 2 days). This worked and it didn’t work. MOST students were finished reading their section close to the same time. The few students who are slower to read did not get to join their book club and be a part of the conversation before the end of class. What am I going to do about that? Before, I had set it up so that they were coming in to class, having finished their reading at home and ready to discuss. However, then I had the time-lapse issue, the loss of momentum for discussions and I ran the risk that they didn’t read their sections at all! But now, some students may not get to participate in the book club discussion, unless I hold the others off until everyone is finished. What will they do while they wait? Answers, please? I’d love to hear them!

I did get to meet with two groups and heard some GREAT discussion. Wonderings and predictions, building on each other’s comments and thoughts. It was SO much better! I asked the students at the end, how they thought it went in comparison and they agreed that it was a vast improvement over their last discussion. Yay! I’ll take it!

So now, I want to come up with some kind of simple reflection of each book club session itself, for them to assess the conversations that they’re having as a group and how they could make them better. Tonight’s homework, I suppose…Who am I kidding? The couch and “The Big Bang Theory” are calling my name. I hope it’s a new one! That Sheldon cracks me up!

Thanks for all of the awesome comments yesterday. I so appreciate you taking your precious time to do that. If you have any more comments on book clubs in general – please share!

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Book Club Discussions: Moving Beyond the Text To Make Meaningful Connections

So we’re about half way through our book club and things are going okay. My class is a group of very verbal kids (and then some not so verbal kids). They seem to be enjoying their novels and I know that they’re engaged in the read aloud text: Firegirl. I have been struggling with one thing, which is getting students to discuss their novels in a meaningful way, without my prompting.

book clubStudents are struggling to keep the conversation going for more than 5 or 10 minutes in their book clubs, after their assigned reading. They are finding it difficult to break away from taking turns, …I talk…then you talk…then you… rather than having a conversation. 

When I realized that this was going to be a struggle (after the first book club meeting) I modelled a conversation for the class. Basically, after reading the section of our read aloud text, a few student volunteers and I had a conversation in front of the class about what had happened. I tried to model what the dicussion should look like, asking questions, building meaning etc. It was a start – but just not enough! If prompted, they can come up with all sorts of ideas, connections and predictions. However, without my prompting, I am listening to very basic comprehension types of statements without any real excitement!

It’s sad. All this time is being spent on the book club and the real meat of the club – talking about what they’re reading – is falling flat. Now I won’t be too hard on them (or me, I guess). There have been some glimmers during their conversations, I just find that given the students I have – I expected more! I struggle to shut them up ( you know what I mean) on a good day, having to ask them to put their hands down because we’ll just never get to finish the lesson (sometimes their connections are not always on topic and once that train falls off the rails…).

Well, we had a short after school PD session on Guided Reading for K-8 yesterday, and it got me thinking about how I’m doing things in this book club and what they are actually getting out of it.

I talked to our presenter after the session about the conversation dilemma and she actually directed me toward a great resource that our school has: Teaching and Comprehending Fluency: Thinking, Talking and Writing about Reading (with DVD). I read the chapter on book clubs and got a couple of great ideas from it. The DVD that comes with the book has lots of other resources on it as well! The one that I plan to us is the video modelling what a book club discussion is supposed to look like – with real students discussing a real text.  I can’t wait to show it to my students and see what they have to say about it, especially in comparison to their own groups. I’m really hoping that it’s going to put some spark into their book club discussions.

I guess maybe I was a little naive, as this is my first book club. I just thought they’d dive in, like on Oprah and divulge their thoughts and wonderings, building elegantly on one another’s ideas. Ugghhh…What was I thinking?

Oh, one other idea that I got from the book was to have students use a “think mark” – basically just a folded piece of paper – to write ideas down as they come across things in their reading. They can mark page numbers down, predictions, opinions, wonderings, words they don’t understand etc. and then take those to book club to use as they discuss. I’m going to try this one tomorrow.

So, help me out! What other strategies can I try, to make the second half of this book club more engaging than the first? I’m completely open to your ideas!

I’ll tell you what I’ve got so far…

-Students are already expected to have a Reader Response ready and topic of discussion for the book club meeting (completed after they read). And, I’m going to try the think mark idea tomorrow.

-Students have “Guidelines for Book Club” to encourage listening and making sure that everyone has a chance to speak.

What I plan to try…

-Showing them the DVD of the book club discussion as a model and talk about what the students are doing well.

I’m ready and listening…share your wisdom…please!middle school lessons from the middle school blog canadian blog, middle school math photo


On with the book club: What makes a person admirable?

Continuing on with our book club in Language Arts today, we discussed what personality traits make someone admirable. Again, the theme of our book club is “This is who I am” and all of the novels have main characters who display “admirable traits” and strength of character in some way.

I had students write what they thought were admirable traits on the board and here is what they had to say:Book club continued: What makes a person admirable? star photo


-Really cute

-Good singer

-High self esteem


-Make sacrifices for others

-Good personality



-An awesome actor

-Helps me with my basketball playing



-Sets a goal and works toward it



-Patient… and a few others…

We had an excellent discussion on the traits that they came up with, and then worked on trying to narrow our list down to 5 main traits.

Can someone be admirable and also be a horrible singer? Yes, of course – so we took “good singer” off of the board. Can you be admirable without a good sense of humor? Yep! So that “funny” was gone.

We worked our way through the list and finally decided on a few key characteristics that would make someone admirable:

They are kind, set a goal and work toward it, and make sacrifices for others.

The best part is that the class basically hit the nail on the head! The traits that they decided on are ones that the main characters in the novels display. Score! I love it when that happens – everything coming together the way it’s supposed to. They are already making connections all over the place and we’re only two days in. They’re connecting our read aloud, Firegirl, to the anticipation guide that we did on Friday and to the main character that we read about in our last read aloud, Shot at Dawn: World War I. Love it! Super pumped for when they actually get into their book club groups with their own independent novels which will be Session 5… and we’re entering Session 3 tomorrow.

Wish me luck! We’re on to a shared reading piece tomorrow about Myers-Briggs and personality inventories – should be interesting!

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