“The dumbest thing you can do as a teacher is to keep on doing something just because you already planned it.”
These wise words were spoken by one of my favourite professors at Meredith College, the small women’s college where I completed my MAT. Even though I graduated a few years ago, I find myself coming back to them more and more often.
Have you ever felt the urge to take a particular unit in another direction because your students weren’t interested? Or maybe you’ve experienced the flip side– they’re super interested in something else, something you’re not covering in your class. Well, everyone… here’s your permission: make the change.
I’m often hesitant to make these changes. “But Bethany, you put so much thought and consideration into this lesson! Were those thoughts wrong? Of course not! Just keep going! It’ll work out eventually” These thoughts ring in my head hour after hour as I agonise over the decision of whether I should pivot and change or stay the course. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a time where I was glad that I stayed the course or ignored the “urges” my kids have. And never have I regretted following them.
I saw this most recently in my class with our reading of The Lightning Thief, the read aloud I planned for Term 1. While it took us a little bit to get into the story, eventually we were having 15-30 minute discussions about Greek mythology following every read aloud session! My original intention was to use The Lightning Thief as a mentor text to model novel study roles and responsibilities, then teach key fiction comprehension skills. I had planned 8 weeks worth of content surrounding this novel and then linked it to what was happening in the novel the students were reading. We did the book tasting so that we’d be set up for novel studies. The kids had their books, they made book club treaties, and had even begun to read! However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe engagement would be higher if I followed their urge to learn Greek mythology and we abandoned our novel study. I felt like if I stuck with our novel study then I’d be wasting an opportunity. After all, how many times do we get literally our entire class engaged on a single topic or unit of study? Answer: Never.
I ended up handing the decision over to my students in a Google poll. They could vote to continue to do the novel study and learn Greek mythology concurrently, or to put off the novel study and do Greek mythology full time this term. Do you know what they voted?
Seriously– that’s their vote! Twenty four wanted to do Greek mythology and two wanted to continue with novel study. So… we made the switch!
The change in our literacy block has been pretty profound since we “abandoned” our novel study and followed where the students wanted to go. In the two weeks since we made the swap, I’ve rarely had a moment where students weren’t engaged. We’ve created profiles of various gods/goddesses, learned their histories, created plays about other greek myths (King Midas and the Golden Touch, Poseidon and Medusa, The Trojan Horse, just to name a few), and are moving into theme and character traits. We even linked this with narrative writing to create our own Greek god/goddess and tell of how they became heroes in Ancient Greece. I’ve even had parents emailing me saying that their students are asking to go to the public library to check out books on Greek mythology.
Am I a little bummed that we didn’t get to do our novel study? Of course. I can’t get back the hours I worked on that unit; however, it will have it’s time… it’s just not right now. And my future self will still be thankful.
Have you ever abandoned what you planned to follow a student urge or interest? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
I’ve been dreaming about doing a Book Tasting ever since I started teaching. I had seen it either on Instagram or in a Facebook group and was immediately in love.
Looking back, I think that the biggest reason I loved it was because it seemed fun to redesign your room. It took me three years of teaching before I finally did it, and in that amount of time my reasons for doing a book tasting have definitely changed. Let’s be honest– the redesign still WAS fun; however, I think now my perspective has changed and I see many more benefits that extend past the redesign. Here are my top reasons for why you should do a book tasting in your classroom:
- The room transformation hooks your readers
- The student ownership and choice gives you buy-in and empowers your students
- It gives them a clear example of when they use essential reading skills
First, there’s no denying that a room transformation IS exciting– both for you and the students! Mine were totally hooked, even before they were allowed in the classroom! While it was a bit of work, I kept imagining the look on my students’ faces when they saw our classroom. In total, I’d say the entire endeavour took around 2 hours. That includes creating the table decor (plus printing and cutting), buying the materials, gathering books from the resource room, and the actual set up. It’s fairly manageable if you pace it over a few weeks. I definitely don’t recommend waiting until the last minute! You’ll be frazzled and the kids will sense it.
Here’s a break down of the materials I used for our book tasting. If there was a cost, I included that as well.
- 6 books, 8 copies each (free from the resource room at our school)
- Book tasting bookmarks and book rating forms from Primary Teaching Resources (free on TpT)
- Table signs and student name cards (I made these, so they were free. You can get them from my TpT store)
- 5 red plastic table cloths ($2 each, $10 total, these linked are similar)
- 18 dessert cups ($3 for 6, $18 total. I can’t find mine on Amazon, but these look cute!)
- 40 bags of “crispy potatoes” ($15, only needed)
- Cookies/biscuits ($5)
Total cost: $48
I know some people may cringe at that. I do acknowledge that we as teachers are grossly underpaid and often do not get reimbursed for costs like this. But honestly… it brought ME a lot of joy to do this with my class, so to me it’s worth it. Also, I can reuse all the tablecloths and dessert cups next year, PLUS I still had 14 bags of “crispy potatoes” that I can still use for my lunches. You could definitely do it for less if you had table cloths of your own at home or didn’t provide snacks.
You might be tempted to skip the transformation part, but I honestly think it’s an essential part of a book tasting. I intentionally closed the blinds on our windows and put tape over the door so that students couldn’t see the classroom before school started. I put up a “SCHOOL CAFE CLOSED FOR CLEANING” sign and made a note at the bottom telling the students that they should meet me outside at 8:55 for their reservation. They were going nuts! They were so excited to see what it was and try to get a peek inside. I waited for my students outside the classroom with an apron on, reminding them that they would be seated at 8:55 for their dinner reservation. It built up suspense for what was about to happen and set the tone that reading is exciting and fun.
Once the 8:55 bell rang, I did a quick attendance “to see if anyone was late for their reservation,” then escorted students inside by table just like a host would at a restaurant. Throughout the tasting, I answered their questions, but also refilled their water cups, just like a waiter would. I greeted them by their last name and even reminded a few that “we are at a restaurant, so good manners are expected.” Even my most reluctant readers were totally engaged with our book tasting, something I really believe was a direct result of the room transformation.
Hosting a book tasting is one way that you can give students choice and ownership over what they read. As I selected novels for our study, I made sure to select a wide range of things that I knew a large variety of students would be interested in. I also made sure to account for the various reading levels in my classroom.
As students “tasted” their books, they filled out a quick form that had them rate the book on a scale of 1-10, circle whether they would like to read the book or not, and write a brief summary. I think the rating and the scale really helped students ultimately decide which books were their favourites, something which may have bene difficult if those components weren’t there. At the end of the tasting, students filled out the bookmark with their top three choices. They turned it in to me and I used their top three to form the clubs.
Doing this gave students ownership in what they read. I told them ahead of time that if they didn’t put a book in their top three, then I wouldn’t put them in that club. This varies drastically over how I taught guided reading in the past. Yes, I’d still consider student interest then, but to me, giving student choice is even better than you just selecting a book for them, even if the book IS on a topic they’re interested in. In the end, I only had one or two students that were unhappy, but that was only because they had already read most of the books. Regardless, I’d say having 24 out of my 26 students excited about reading and book clubs is a huge win.
I think we can all agree that our number one goal in reading ISN’T for students to pass a standardised test at the end of the year; however, it can be really hard to balance the pressure we feel to get our kids to pass these tests and the desire to just help them become lifelong readers. Booktasting is one way that you can review skills that students might need for a standardised test, such as skimming and summarising, all while giving them a real-life reading scenario: how do I know if a book is a good choice for me?
Prior to “tasting” our books, I taught a really quick mini-lesson on how to know if a book is a good fit for you. We identified places we could look for a quick summary of what we were going to read (the back cover or inside flap). We discussed various ways to assess whether a book is too hard, too easy, or just right. Lastly and most importantly, I told them that the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can consider is whether or not you think you would ENJOY the book. I think this last part surprised most of my students. “You mean we can read a book that’s too hard or too easy for us as long as we enjoy it?!” Yes, my friends, yes you can.
This will forever be one of the highlights of my teaching career and I’m already looking forward to the next time we do it! Because I teach a composite class (two grade levels in one room), I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it again next year. Regardless, you can bet that I’m already on the hunt for something similar.
Have you done a book tasting? If not, what’s holding you back? I’d love to answer any of your questions in the comments below!