Room 313

adventures in teaching creative writing

Archive for the tag “classroom library”

What’s App, Teach?

I’m hosting a little breakout session tomorrow at the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English fall conference. Our theme for the conference is technology integration, so my 45-minute presentation is entitled “What’s App, Teach?”. We have around 80 teachers registered, and around six or seven sessions to choose from, so I’m curious to see how many teachers I will have attend my session. I’m up against some of my teaching heroes and colleagues like Claudia Swisher, Brook Meiller, Bonner Slayton,and Kimberly J. Stormer during Session A from 1:00 to 1:45.

I’m going to address the following apps and give time for exploration and discussion of how to use them in our English classrooms:

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Classroom Organizer
  • Remind
  • tumblr
  • Pick a Student

Here’s my handout [Google upload] for my participants.


Classroom Organizer Breakthrough

When your classroom library has over 500 titles, how are you supposed to keep track of them? For eight long years, I used a handwritten chart. Students wrote their name, book title, book tub number, date checked out, and eventually, the date checked in. It worked well enough, but it wasted paper, and it was hard to determine who had checked out books for an extended period of time.

A few years back, I came across Booksource on Twitter. They were offering a promotion for a free copy of Brian Selznick’s Wonder Struck. I entered the competition, and for about the second time in my life, I won a contest! (I also won $100 during blackout bingo at after-prom my senior year of high school.) I began to follow the Booksource, and soon discovered they had a free program called the Classroom Organizer for teachers to use to check out books to students. In fact, some teachers were letting students check out books to themselves the program was so easy.

In January 2013, I was hesitant to change from my chart to the Classroom Organizer in the middle of the school year, so I waited. I learned how the program works and began importing my classroom titles into my Booksource account by scanning ISBNs. At the time, I didn’t have a smart phone, so I tried using an iPad the school had given me. The camera quality was not nearly as good as an iPhone, I soon discovered. Books that wouldn’t scan for me would easily scan on my students’ iPhones. I enlisted a small army of students to help me scan titles. All they had to do was download the free Classroom Organizer app, and then I entered my account’s information. Eventually, I bought an iPhone, and one of the first apps I downloaded was the Classroom Organizer. (I get such a kick out of adding a book to my library by scanning it. My brain receptors probably fire off the same way for when I get a text message or a Twitter notification! Ha!) I couldn’t wait to start the 2013-2014 school year using a 21st century system.

Looking back on this past school year, I’m very happy with how the app worked. Many of my students were impressed with the capabilities of the Classroom Organizer app. I was happy with its weekly email feature that told me when students had overdue books. That made it so much easier to keep track of who was hoarding books. On the few days that my iPhone was dead or forgotten at home, I just told students to take books, and we would scan them the next day. This didn’t always happen, so I would sometimes revert to writing titles down on paper along with the students who had them. The app probably crashed once or twice a week, but it was fairly reliable, and it’s FREE, so I can’t complain.  Since I do not have a classroom computer, I check out the books on my iPhone. Part of me who wants to control everything wonders if all high schoolers would remember to check out books if they were given that chance. I have an extra iPad the school gave me, so maybe I could try using that this coming school year.

As I prepared for a new round of students earlier today, I needed to load students into my Classroom Organizer account. This feature is not available on the app, so you have to log in to the website, and as I clicked into my account, a sense of dread came over me. I remembered last year having to painstakingly copy each student’s name from my PowerTeacher account into the spreadsheet Booksource requires. An aside: elementary teachers could maybe type each name into the online spreadsheet, but I have 130 students, so I would much rather use the Excel spreadsheet option. The required columns are Last Name and First Name, but my grade book presents students’ names as Last Name, First Name, e.g., Farrand, Sam.

The comma was causing problems. If only there were a way to have Excel automatically separate the names into the two columns and eliminate the comma! My gut told me this was possible. Why hadn’t I googled this last year? Sure enough, Microsoft explained how to do this. What relief! What would have taken over an hour only took a few seconds. And now my students are loaded and ready to go for this coming Wednesday. I wonder how many books I can check out on the first day of school.

Tweaking the Reading Routine

In room 149 we are one month into the second semester. I’ve been tweaking how we begin class since I read Penny Kittle’s Book Love. The ten minutes of sustained silent reading was non-negotiable, but I wanted to give more book talks, so I started each class with a book talk or two. It was a little jarring at first because students were used to reading as soon as the bell rang. Now I was talking about books before they got to read. Some of my more voracious readers ignored me and got even more reading time in. These are the same students who try to read during a lesson or activity. I feel bad telling them to put their books away, but that’s the way it has to be.

I quickly realized that I couldn’t keep up giving daily book talks, so I decided students would give book talks on Wednesdays. Some hours are more willing to talk than others, so I sometimes have to call on specific students. My seventh hour has the most willing students. They actually come to the front of the room to talk rather than talk from their desks like my other hours.

All year long we have used the first few minutes on Fridays to update our reading checkup charts. Students record the book they’re currently reading, their page progress (e.g., 134/358), and their total number of books read. Here’s one of my blog posts that goes more in depth on how we do that, which includes some student samples.

Most recently I started showing book trailers from YouTube to start Monday classes. Yesterday I showed book trailers for Stupid Fast and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. By my second English class, both books had been checked out. Here’s my current playlist of book trailers I’m collecting on YouTube. My plan is for this list to grow throughout the school year.

To recap, here’s our weekly schedule at a glance:
Mondays: book trailers
Tuesdays: I give book talks
Wednesdays: 3-4 students give book talks
Thursdays: I give book talks
Fridays: Students update their reading charts

Recently students have volunteered to help me add up the weekly total of books from the checkup charts. I sometimes let them help me, especially if quite a few students need to have a book chat with me on that day. But seeing each student’s progress helps me motivate the ones who have not read much in the past week.

With our new media center opening, some old book shelves became available, and I nabbed one. I gave a smaller bookshelf away to one of my colleagues to make room for it. Here’s how my classroom library looks now:


In January I explained to students the quote bulletin board I had left empty the entire fall semester. To kick things off, I put up the famous quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Only one student brought quotes for the board, but she brought a lot. Here’s the board:


This semester I’m having students read a book that’s been nominated for our state’s Sequoyah award. Instead of limiting their choices to only the winners of the Sequoyah award, I’m letting them choose any titled that’s been nominated over the past four years. I posted all the titles they could choose from, and I arranged for our librarian to come give book talks on some Sequoyah titles to all my classes. She has the Sequoyah titles labeled with different colored stickers, so that’s why the list is color-coded.


Along with the number of books read per hour, I’m also calculating the average books per student, or bps. I had some students move away between semesters, and I also gained some students, so that’s why my student numbers changed. I should probably reprint them, but it’s not a priority.



I also chart the overall book progress on this semester chart.


I’m also keeping a running list of all the texts we have shared together as a class, an idea I think I got from Donalyn Miller.


These routines work for my students and me. Feel free to borrow and tweak them for use in your own classroom.

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