So what book are you reading these days? And what made you decide to grab that book and read it? Most likely, you heard about it from a trusted friend, relative, or colleague. Do kids recommend books to each other? From my experience, the answer is NO. They aren’t naturally talking about the books they love at recess, on their cells, or online. That’s where you and I come in. We need to provide class time and clear guidance for our students to learn how to recommend books to each other. I train my students at the beginning of the year to record, in their binder or on their iPad, a “Books to Read” list. This list should include the title along with how they can find the book. If it’s in the library, then the author’s last name is usually sufficient. If a friend will loan them the book, then write the friend’s name next to the book title. As students finish reading their current book, they look at their “Books to Read” list to choose a new one.
This is where the Book Party comes in. Students learn to roam around the classroom “party-style” and just informally chat with one another about the books they love. All students must be carrying their list. Students are allowed to gather in groups of 2 or more. The only “rules” for the Book Party is that all students must be either talking about a book they love, listening to someone else talking about a book, or writing down a book recommendation on their “Books to Read” list. One key to helping students to stay focused is for the teacher to constantly scan the room checking for students who appear to be off task. Book parties normally last about 5 minutes. Sometimes, at the end of the book party, I will ask students to hold up the number of fingers to correspond to how many books they added to their list. Here is a brief video peek at my students conducting a book party.
Would 4th and 5th graders be able to hold their own student-driven, student-centered EdCamp? We gave it a shot this last Friday in room 32 at Wildomar Elementary School. Students signed up all week long to run the sessions. The “poster” was a shared Google Spreadsheet. We held four 15-minute sessions with a 20-minute break in the middle and at the end for reflection. The kids LOVED it as I’m sure you will be able to tell in this 4-minute highlight video of the event. Presentation topics included horses, One Direction band, Scratch game programming, dance, gymnastics, iPad settings, baseball, and Minecraft.
Assessment of the Day
It was a bit messy at times, but overall, the kids were thoroughly engaged and will never forget it. Areas to improve: greater guidance on “voting with your feet,” brainstorm topics before giving the kids access to the sign-up board, encourage deeper topics, and having more time for follow-up discussion and/or reflection journaling at the end. Victories: the presenters took it very seriously, one girl had a ton of research ready to go, one very shy girl totally blossomed and showed amazing communication and leadership skills, 29 of my 30 students present were engaged and learning, no one seemed to be too hurt by participants leaving their session, very little wasted time, took students to a new level of maturity and love of learning.
What about teaching the standards? None of the sessions were standards-based. I’m not sure if this is important, and if I did try to steer the event in that direction, if it would still be this engaging and successful in the eyes of the students. Students were definitely learning habits of mind, 21st century skills, and were totally engaged. Is there a way to run such an event that is standards-based without losing the magic? That remains to be seen. I plan to try it again in a month and include one or two other 4th/5th grade classes.