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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

How Do Sixth Graders REALLY Feel About Reading and "Devices"?

What am I going to do with two computers and 32 kids per class? Nothing, on a daily or regular basis. I use them mainly when kids need technology to accommodate learning issues such as motor dyspraxia, an inability to use fine motor skills; the computers dictate written lessons.
Forget the stereotypical image of a “born digital” kid permanently attached to a digital device, fluent in all things technological. Here’s my reality, with data from the sixth-grade trenches at St. Michael School in Livonia, Michigan.

Let me start by reiterating that tweens are not teens; older tweens are not younger tweens. I know from experience and observation that the 10 to 12.5 age group has unique circumstances and challenges when it comes to reading with technology (or not).

This year, for a deeper dive, I introduced an anonymous attitude survey, in addition to my annual reading interest survey. The attitude survey measures how my three fresh classes of sixth graders (96 of them) feel about print versus digital reading, including their use of digital devices (or not).

They took this online survey a couple weeks ago in computer class, which has one computer per kid. (My classroom has only two computers for student use.) What I learned from the results is that tweens generally have some level of access to devices—tablets, ereaders, desktops, laptops, smartphones. But, on the whole, they don’t own the devices or use them frequently (yet).

In my classes, many tweens tend to get their first cell phone or (if they’re lucky) smart phone and perhaps a tablet at Christmas time. Tweens with older siblings tell me that they are at the bottom of the totem pole and often get pushed off the family computer. So, in response, I give out any online assignments far in advance and include a back-up plan to allow students to complete computer work before or after school or at lunch time, if necessary.

Here are the results from this year’s survey, for data geeks, along with some interesting and thought-provoking comments about reading, for those who (like me) make that their mission. Read More 
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The Goldilocks Rule: Choosing a Book That's Just Right

My sixth graders started a Word of Mouth wall to share their favorite titles—totally their idea.

Goldilocks had the right idea: Sit in the chair that is just right. Eat the porridge that is just right. Find a bed that is just right.

So... “Goldilocks” is my number one rule for reading: find a book that is just right for you.

Why number one? Because making good choices is the first crucial step to falling in love with reading. If kids enjoy a book, they’ll voluntarily try another one. And another one. A negative experience derails that happy train.

The Goldilocks Rule sounds simple, yet following it is a struggle for some of my sixth graders. An adult who knows a kid well can offer guidance, but one of my goals is to help kids discover “just right” books on their own. It’s an empowering quest made easier by these detective tips, which you could demonstrate using a book that’s unfamiliar to kids. Read More 

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My Carrots-and-Sticks (Gotta Have Sticks!) Reading Incentive Program

Leave a comment or email me if you'd like a copy of my Book Buddies reading incentive contract.

At times, getting tweens to read is like bleeding a stone. Sometimes, you just have to cram books down their metaphorical throats and make them read. You just do.

That’s the sticks half of my carrots-and-sticks reading incentive program and, say what you will about bribes and rewards and force feeding, it’s worked well for me for the past 20 years.

I call the program Book Buddies—corny, I know, but books are our friends (I tell my students) and a local business called Buddy’s provides the carrots in the form of coupons.

My biggest stick is: The program counts toward their grades. Here’s how it works.


Each September, my students sign a contract to read a minimum of one book per month from October through April. That means everyone must read at least seven books at their reading level. That’s seven whole books. For the whole school year. And for some kids, that’s a struggle, believe me.

For each book completed, students will fill out a verification slip with their name, the book title, the author, and a parent/guardian signature.

At orientation night at the beginning of the year, I speak to the parents at great length about reading. I give them some ideas for discussing books with their children—a great family dinnertime conversation. Christopher Paul Curtis in The Mighty Miss Malone would call this “Chief’s and Children’s Chow Chat”!

Of course, the kids are welcome to pledge and read as many books as they like each month. Last year, one girl logged an astonishing 119 titles. My classes as a whole (85 students) read 1,752 books!

I have actually had parents call me to complain that their kids were reading too much and not getting chores or homework done, or not getting enough sleep. Other kids aim a little higher than they can reach with their monthly goals. That’s why I make those goals eligible for negotiation and adjustment, even though the contract is a “legal document.”

That sounds like a stick, doesn’t it?
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How to Speed Date a Book

Okay, that's a squirmy title for a middle grade reading blog, but after having lunch with a friend who speed dates, I decided it was the perfect description of what I do on my first day of literature class.

I begin with a declaration: “Literature class, it’s speed dating time!”

Silence. Nervous glances are exchanged, a few questioning smiles, some giggles escape, girls and boys visibly lean farther away from each other, but no hands go up, no one questions the teacher or her odd statement.

I'm confident: My sixth graders are willing to go on any adventure with me. Right? So, I repeat, “It’s time for speed dating. Does anyone know what that is?”

This year, a brave girl raised her hand and explained: "People talk for a short time to see if they like each other. Then, when a bell goes off, they move on to new people."

Exactly! (Tee hee.)

That's when I spring it on these brand new sixth graders that they are about to speed date. But, I add with a deliberate pause, their dates aren't boys and girls (sighs of relief). They will be dating... books!  Read More 

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