Reading Program Update Part 1: A Photo Essay

I’ve just finished upgrading my reading program in a bunch of new, fun ways. Over the next five days, I’m going to release a new blog post each day. I hope you come back and check them all out.

  • Part 1: Photo Essay
  • Part 2: Reading Data-How and Why to Gather It
  • Part 3: Data of Differentiation
  • Part 4: Data of Student Preferences
  • Part 5: Data of Book Popularity and Circulation

Starting Place: I was already really happy with a lot of aspects in my free choice reading program. I have a huge selection of books, over a 150 different titles. Check out this post to see the complete catalog in Spanish. I have them displayed via rain gutters on the walls with the cover image forward, which adds so much browsability.

Improvement 1: Peer to Peer Recommendations I have to thank Alina Filipescu and Mike Peto for this idea. A variation on it was Alina’s idea which was published by Mike on his website in this wonderful blog post. In Alina’s practice, when students finish a book, they turn in a sticky note reaction in Spanish. That gave me the idea of having students write reviews and then taping them inside the book in a super localized version of YELP for books. In my application, they are to write in English because I wanted kids to be able to read the reviews regardless of level and without my editing the Spanish.

Each note should include:

  • name, first not last. Perhaps this is optional. I thought including it could add some interest. As you can see, some kids also added their last name…Don’t know why, or whether it really matters.
  • Ranking of book out of 10. I told them that if they couldn’t rank the book at least a 6, just don’t write a sticky note for that book. The point is to encourage enthusiasm and interest, so my instinct told me I should only allow positive reviews
  • Review: I told them to include why they enjoyed the book. Perhaps what type of book it is-mystery, thriller, sci-fi, funny, silly, scary, etc.
  • I went back and forth and decided not to include the student’s level of Spanish. I wanted the recommendation to be completely about content. My instinct tells me that it’s best to encourage kids to choose books based on interest and let them decide if it’s too difficult to stick with. Plus, my library is organized by text difficulty, anyway, so they can tell pretty much how difficult it’s going to be by its placement.

Then, they tape it to one of the filler pages inside the book’s front or back.

These reviews are going to add a lot to the browsing experience. Without them, students look at the cover art, read the back description, flip through the pages to look at any pictures, and read a few passages to get a feel for the language difficulty. With the sticky notes, they’ll be able to read many different students’ opinions in addition. I envision all of the books eventually being filled with 10 or 15 different reviews between all the filler pages in the front and back that can be filled up. It’s going to be wonderful!!!



Improvement 2: Running Book Totals– I’ve seen Bryce Hedstrom and some others post pics on Facebook of recording each finished book with a post-it note. I’ve finally gotten some butcher paper up on the wall for all five classes and am set up to start adding the post-its. You can see the ten that I added after school on Friday on the green and light blue paper. I have all of the sticky notes collected from my two sections of level 3, who have been reading since October. On Monday, I’ll ask the librarian to tape them up. The current completed novel count for the classes is 131 and 109 respectively. So, I might have to put up some bigger pieces of paper. Incredible!!! I just launched the reading program for levels 1 and 2, so we’ll just add the post-it notes as we finish books.

I have mixed thoughts about making it a competition between the classes. As soon as I said it, kids started to make observations like, “Pass out all the short books! We’ll read the easy ones over and over again.” So, maybe not. Maybe it’ll just serve as a cool visual way to track our progress and marvel at all our accomplishments.


Here’s a close up:



Improvement 3: Bookmarks– This improvement is pretty inconsequential, but also pretty cute. So, I’m including it. I did a google search and presented some ideas to the students. They ran with it and had a good time for the last 20 minutes or so of class designing them.

A few practical suggestions:

  • the only style of bookmark that seems to be working is the the traditional sort, rectangular and relatively narrow, that you can shove into the spine so that it actually stays put with a bunch of other kids in other classes reading the same book. The beginner section in particular can feature books with three or four bookmarks in them. Big, wide bookmarks didn’t work. Cute bookmarks that you stick on the corner off the book didn’t work.
  • No names should be allowed. No need to invite problems.
  • The teacher should quickly approve all bookmarks for appropriateness.



I particularly like the ones that have a cute feature that sticks up above the book. They look adorable sitting on the library shelves! Here’s a Squidward and a Shining Star!


Check back in tomorrow for Part 2: Reading Data-How and Why to Gather It


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