Power Language, a new blog series!

I’m so thrilled to share that Kari Yates and I have a new blog series up and running! It’s all about leveraging the language we use with our readers to make conferences more meaningful and impactful.

Often times, many teachers want to confer with their readers, but just aren’t sure what to say or how to start. If building a consistent and joyful conferring practice with your readers is one of your goals for when you return to school, this series will support your efforts. Take a look, and let us know what you think over at To Know and Nurture a Reader!

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Power Language #1:  May I join you? 

 

Hang in there, teachers! You got this.

Three days of school left…

I’m not going to lie. It has been rather challenging. In fact, it has been a downright struggle to stay upright the past couple weeks.  I’m still knee deep in finishing mandated summative assessments, entrenched in 5th grade practice for their formal promotion ceremony on Friday, and am just overwhelmed with the thought of having to complete my report cards by Friday at 1:30PM.

My fellow teachers- yes, this time of year is hard. It is challenging. It is downright exhausting. You are not alone if you are struggling. I’m struggling, and I’ve been doing this for close to two decades! It’s normal to be overwhelmed. It’s normal to feel like you have no time to do the things that actually matter with all of the end of year hoopla going on.

However, I’m asking you, pleading with you, to do one thing both for yourself and your students. Before you say goodbye to your kiddos, pack up your shelves and cabinets, and close the door for the end of the year, take some time to make one last connection with your kiddos.  It’s truly a gift not only for your kids, but also for you.

During this insanely busy day today, I made sure there was time for 30 minutes of independent reading. Yes- I sacrificed other things, and I was happy to do so. For years now (more than I can actually remember), independent reading has been my one nonnegotiable in the classroom. I clear the schedule to make sure my kiddos have independent reading time every single day no matter what. In fact, I fiercely protect it.  Remember, when we value something we make room for it. If there’s no time, then perhaps it’s not something we really value.

Back to the gift to my kiddos and myself… during those 30 minutes of independent reading time today, I conferred. Rather than conferring with individual readers like I typically do, I held what I like to call cluster conferences. Cluster conferences are where I settle in near a group of readers (at a table, in the library, on the floor among a group of beanbags, etc…) to have a conversation around reading with the kids nearby. To start each cluster conference, I first asked my readers in the area if I could join them- after all, this is their personal reading space. Then, I asked them to come to a good stopping point in their books.  Once each reader was at a good stopping point, I simply stated, “Let’s chat about our plans for summer reading. What are you thinking?”

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 8.30.43 PMAnd, think and chat they did! Each of my cluster conferences turned into lovely and lively group conversations about what we all plan to read this summer. My kiddos gave each other recommendations for books, places and times to read, and even made plans to check in with each other over the summer about their similar book choices.

These conversations filled my tired teacher heart and made me smile. I realized that one of the reasons I was worn out is because I worked all year preparing my kiddos to do what they did today- to independently lead themselves and each other in goal setting and planning conferences. This was no easy task. It took work- a lot of hard, well-worth-the-effort work! Once I realized this, my exhausted feeling turned into a sort of satisfaction. I sat back, looked around my classroom at my readers, and smiled.

No matter what happens in the next few days, I know I still have precious time to cluster confer with my readers. I know I still have time to make a difference. I know I’m making a difference…

and so are you.

Hang in there, my fellow teachers. Hang in there, and take some time to genuinely connect with your kiddos before you say goodbye. Connect over summer reading- it’s a perfect way to embrace both the heart and the mind of each student before you say goodbye. You’ll be so glad you did.

You got this!

 

For more on summer reading… 

A Small Glimpse Into Our Summer Reading Conferences

The Road to Pleasure Reading: Six Steps to Ensure Your Students Will Read This Summer

Keep the Reading Going… Letter to Classroom Families

For more on conferring… 

Why Confer with Readers? Ten Compelling Reasons

A Small Glimpse Into Our Summer Reading Conferences

I cannot believe that I only have 11 days left with my 5th grade kiddos!  The utter insanity of the end of the school year is in full force… report card writing, final assessments, parent conferences, meetings during every single planning period and after school, ordering supplies, planning promotion ceremonies, assemblies, parties, writing speeches, the list goes on! However, this doesn’t mean the critical work of teaching stops. In fact, it is ramping up!  My main goal right now is to make sure all my kiddos are  set up for summer reading success.  Of the (what seems like) 10,000 things I have to do in the next 11 days, making sure my kiddos each have a specific plan for summer reading is my most important job.

Over the past three days, I conferred with each of my students around their summer reading plans. We’ve been thinking, talking, sharing, revising, and planning out our summer reading for a couple weeks now, and I have to say my 5th graders have some thoughtful, intentional plans in store for their summer! All of their plans are completely unique and really show each of their specific personalities.

Here’s a glimpse into a few…

 

Harrison’s Plan for Summer

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During our conference today, I asked Harrison to tell me about his thinking around his plan. He’s really looking forward to his downtime this summer- he’s going to explore his big interest even further, World War II, and continue with the Harry Potter series, which he started here in a fifth grade book club a couple months ago.

 

 

 

Chloe’s Plan for Summer

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Every summer, Chloe and her family travel back to Greece to visit family, and she’s all set up for reading on her big trip. She is really excited to continue reading more books by Shannon Messenger and anything she can get her hands on about Hamilton.  When I asked about where she will get her books this summer, she responded that she already secured them through one of our local bookstores.

 

 

 

Nick’s Plan

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Wow! Nick’s flowchart plan and his explanation of it during our conference really blew me away! Actually, Nick’s creativity and risk taking blew me away this entire school year. Nick is just as excited about writing this summer as he is reading. For reading, he has a different plan in mind depending on how the mood strikes him, and plans to continue pursuing journalism- a genre of writing he just fell in love with during the school year

 

 

 

Meg’s Plan

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During our conference today, Meg talked about how she is so excited to tap into our middle school’s online Overdrive library. As a side note, I have to say  we are so fortunate to have such incredible teacher-librarians in my community. My students, especially Meg, thoroughly became excited about 6th grade when the middle school librarian paid us a visit a few weeks back. I wish all kids had access to such talented professionals.

 

 

 

Dion’s Plan

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When Dion first came through my door in August, he was a self-identified nonreader.  With lots of determination on his part, conversations with his supportive parents, and an ongoing partnership with a dedicated specialist teacher at school, we’ve all devoted this school year to helping Dion view himself as a reader. During our conference yesterday, I reminded Dion of what he told me in the fall about his views of reading, and asked him how he now feels as a reader.  His response:  “I love reading.  I can’t wait to start Magnus Chase III”  And friends, there is nothing more important than that.

 

The Road to Pleasure Reading: 6 Tips to Ensure Your Students Will Read Over Summer

“A child sitting in a quiet room with a good book isn’t a flashy or marketable teaching method. It just happens to be the only way anyone became a reader.”  -Nancie Atwell

In the 22 school days remaining with my fifth graders, I have many goals- get through our final stretch of mandated standardized testing, support them in researching and writing about a topic in American history of their choice, delve deeper into the world of coordinate graphing, freely write in what Ralph Fletcher calls the Greenbelt, and ensure that we read for an uninterrupted time every single one of those 22 days. In my mind, that last Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 7.36.05 PMgoal is the absolute most important.  This goal is the most important because once my fifth graders leave my doors, they will not return to the world of elementary school, where their independent reading time has been protected for the past six years. My kiddos will be heading off to middle school next school year. I know that many of their future teachers will encourage independent choice reading, and I am so grateful that the work done the past few years will continue.  However, I also know that many of their teachers will not make time for reading in their classes- assignments and other time consuming activities will take the place that independent reading once held.  This truly saddens me- breaks my heart in fact. That’s why the next 22 days are critical in the development of my kiddos as lifelong readers.

In these next 22 days, we will read, talk about reading, and make plans for the summer ahead of reading. We will also talk about the beauty and joy of being a lifelong pleasure reader… well, we’ve talked about it all school year. We’ve lived it all school year! However, these 22 days are critical. In these 22 days ahead, I need to ensure that every single one of my students will read over the summer, and then hopefully on throughout the rest of their lives. This is the foundation on which the rest of their reading lives will be built. These next 22 days are the culmination of their reading-focused elementary years- from when their kindergarten teachers first introduced them to the joys of repeated story book reads to falling in love, and dare I say, becoming addicted to a novel series in fifth grade… this is it. This is both the end and the beginning. These next 22 days are critical.

So, to ensure that my kiddos will read over summer and in the future, I have six simple steps in mind. Before we get to the list, I want to point out that incentive programs are not mentioned in the list below. Incentive programs promote incentives, not reading. They promote the idea that kids should read to earn a prize rather than promote the idea that reading is something we do to laugh, think, grow, question, learn, and love as a means of connection between a reader and the world beyond the reader’s world. Incentives don’t work in the long run. However, many other things do. Here are six tried and true things you can do to support your kiddos in reading over the summer and hopefully beyond…

6. Enlist parents and families as fellow reading advocates. In addition to continually talking with families all year about reading, I also frequently emailed them reminders about the importance about reading at home.  Instead of an at-home reading log, I heavily relied on honest communication with families. For an example of this, take a look at this letter I wrote families last year passing the reading champion baton over to them. I plan to write a similar letter this year.

5. Recently, Kylene Beers offered this thoughtful idea in her blog: Send a few postcards home to students over summer asking about their reading. I’ve actually never considered this idea before, and am just thrilled that Kylene took the time to write about it. What a powerful, yet simple way to engage kids in connection around reading!

4. Book Talk, recommend, and mingle! This morning, two of my students book talked Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 7.35.43 PMtwo different books. Now, there is a waiting list for those books in class, and a few other kids are seeking out other ways to obtain those books as well! Nothing excites readers more about reading than hearing about a great book from a friend. Book talks are verbal, in person recommendations. Recommendations can also be written and digital. If this work is new to you- just give it a shot! You have absolutely nothing to lose. The last few weeks of school are the perfect time to try out something with this year’s students, which is additionally practice for next year! Also, book mingling is my favorite new way to get kids talking about books… it’s a whole class movement and book talk activity where every student talks and learns about books that are potentially new to them. To learn how to book mingle in your classroom, take a look here: Book Mingle! 

3. Access is everything. If kids do not have access to books, they will not read. The reverse is also true. If kids have access, they will read. This is the time of year (if you haven’t already done so) to start talking up the local library to your class. Find out who has a library card and who visits the library. If possible, take a field trip to the library, or ask the library to come and talk with your class! Teaching kids how to use the local library is teaching them how to empower themselves. The time to set up kids for book access over the summer is now. We can easily give a child a book or two to read over summer, but an even more powerful gift we can give is teaching a child how to access books on their own without us.

2. Confer!  Aside from learning how to find books they can’t put down, nothing is more powerful than a one to one conversation between two readers: you and a student. If you’re new to conferring, there is no time like the present to start! If you’re not new to conferring, now is the time to start conferring around at-home and away-from-school reading habits and summer reading plans. Teaching a whole group mini lesson around summer reading is great, but having individual conferences with kiddos around summer reading is much more effective- conferences are personalized and responsive to what each child needs. To learn more about the sometimes tricky, yet extremely fulfilling work  of conferring, please feel free to visit the blog that Kari Yates and I started to support conferring with readers: To Know and Nurture a Reader. In the blog, we offer many tips and tricks to support busy elementary teachers in the classroom. We also have a book coming out of the same title from Stenhouse Publishers next month! You can check that out here.

1. Give students uninterrupted independent choice reading time every single school day between now and summer break. It’s not fancy, cute, or wrapped in a bow, but it is the only thing that truly develops a lifelong reading habit. Simply put, the only way kids turn into readers is by reading. Yes- it’s as simple as that.

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What’s the Point?

It’s that time of year again!

Now, you may be thinking many things after reading that statement… it’s time for spring break, the start of baseball season, the end of hockey or basketball seasons, the time flowers bloom, the air temperatures start to warm, or even the time to start making plans for summer. Well, I’m not referring to any of those things. As much as I appreciate and love everything I just mentioned, this blog post is not about something most of us in education eagerly anticipate. Quite the contrary, actually. This post is about testing.

More specifically, this post is about annual standardized testing that is mandatory in most, if not all, public schools across the country.

Here in California, we give a series of Smarter Balanced tests depending on the grade. In my own fifth grade classroom, my students will endure nine separate testing sessions. I estimate this will take up roughly ten hours of instructional time: nine hours of testing itself and one hour of setting up computers, logging in, etc.

The point of my post is not to give my opinion of standardized tests. Rather, it’s just to offer a story of something that happened in my classroom today around preparing for the test.

However, before I give the story, I will offer this opinion- I do not believe in spending hours upon hours of precious classroom time specifically preparing children for these tests.  Luckily, neither do my principal or my school district. In addition, I firmly believe the idea of teaching to the test is an utter waste of classroom time and dare I say it- educational malpractice. However, I do firmly believe in preparing kids for what they will face.

So, about two to three times each week for the past couple weeks, my kiddos and I have been spending 10 minutes looking over some Smarter Balanced sample test questions and discussing how to approach them.  We do this almost as a shared read. I project the sample questions on the smart board and we all tackle the reading passages and accompanying questions together as a group. We talk about strategies, things we’ve already learned that we can apply to the questions, and we give justifications for why we are answering something the way we are answering it.

Well, today my class got into a heated debate around a passage and the two questions that went with it. We actually had a wonderful discussion! Kids chatted in partnerships, cited text evidence, and even respectfully rebutted other kids’ claims. After passionately discussing two potential answers to a question, one of my students asked, “So, what’s the real answer?”  

Now, If you’ve shared Smarter Balanced sample questions with your class, you know that the answers aren’t provided.  So, I responded that there was great evidence and argument given to support two of the potential multiple choice answers, and that the website does not provide us with the actual answer. And honestly, I couldn’t even decide the correct answer, myself.  The same student then asked a follow up question.

“So, on the actual test, how do we give our argument for an answer if we can only select one bubble to click without writing anything?” 

I froze. I wasn’t sure what to say. However, in that moment I was so proud of my students. All year, they have worked so hard on learning how to make an argument backed up with evidence through writing. And next week, they are going to be judged based on single clicks without the opportunity to justify and explain their thinking.  Finally, I responded

“Well, it’s not always about the actual answer. Think about the great discussion we just had. We all grew a little through working to justify our reasons for an answer and learned more about how to make an argument.”

“But, Ms. Nosek, we can’t do that on the test. We have to pick one answer.”

“Yes, true.”

“So, what’s the point? If we have to choose one answer on the actual test, and we can’t all agree on the answer, what’s the point of doing this?”

Like many of you, I’m a real teacher in a real classroom with real students. I didn’t have his answer. I don’t know what the point is. But, I am proud. I am so proud that my student felt brave enough to ask that question. I am proud that my kids passionately debated something using evidence and argument. I am proud that they kept their debates extremely respectful. I am proud that they listened to each other and were willing to both change their minds and offer rebuttals.

However, I still wonder. What’s the point? What’s the point of these tests?  I don’t believe that these tests will show all that my students have learned this year. Well, to be fair, the multiple choice portions probably won’t. I will say that there are written portions of the test. But, I have no idea how these portions of the test are scored or evaluated.

Yet, I do believe I have to prepare students for these tests. I am tasked with giving my fifth graders nine testing sessions over the next three weeks- of course I have to prepare them for it. However, when they ask “what’s the point” I don’t have it in me to give the canned answer that many feel they are supposed to give. So, I just smiled and told them that I just don’t know. Earlier in this post, I said I wasn’t going to offer my opinion of standardized testing. Now that I’ve written out my thoughts, I suspect that you can infer what I really think.

So, I now ask you to ponder… what’s the point?

 

By the way, if you’re curious, here’s the reading passage and two questions we debated today.

A New Writing Journey Has Begun!

I’m so excited to share a new venture in writing! In addition to this blog, I am now also coauthoring a blog with Kari Yates. Our blog, To Know and Nurture a Reader, is now up and running with a series on tackling the trickier parts of conferring with readers. Our book of the same name will be out later this spring from Stenhouse Publishers.

Our first blog post in the series focuses on tips for fostering independence in our students so we can focus on uninterrupted conferring to support each of our readers. Kari and I are really excited about the journey ahead. We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions around conferring with readers!

Happy reading and conferring, friends!

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Kari Yates and I are thrilled to share our work around conferring with our fellow educators!  Visit our new blog here: https://toknowandnurtureareader.com/ 

 

Greenbelt Writing- Thank you, Ralph Fletcher!

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Greenbelt writing inspires students to discover who they are and how they can grow into themselves as writers. This is just one of many pieces from the past few weeks.

 

How often in a child’s life do they get to set their own purpose and carve their own path? Perhaps a better question is, how often do the adults around them relinquish control to encourage kids to find their own way?

Well, I venture to guess that in today’s standards-focused schools, much of what kids do is decided by the adults around them.  Even in my own classroom, this is definitely the case. I set the schedule and I choose the lessons for the day. Again, I venture to guess that this is the case in most classrooms across the country.

However, I am a firm believer in choice- choice in where to sit, what to read, with whom to work, and at what pace to work. After all, I may set the tone in the room, but it is my students who are doing the actual work of learning.  In our reading workshop, choice is truly the name of the game, and my kiddos are all readers because of it.

However, I have to say that our classroom writing workshop just had a different feel to it. In writing workshop, I selected the genre, the lessons, the small groups, and the time of day. My students always selected their topics, but it just wasn’t enough to get them as excited and engaged in writing as they were with reading.

Enter Joy Write.

In Ralph Fletcher’s groundbreaking professional book for teachers, Joy Write, writing isScreen Shot 2018-03-18 at 11.09.38 AM given back to the writer. There are many aspects of Joy Write that I could bring up, but the one that has had the biggest impact on my fifth grade writers this year is the idea of Greenbelt Writing.

Earlier this school year when I introduced Greenbelt writing to my young writers, I first showed an aerial picture of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. We discussed how in the park some people choose to bike, while others decide to go for a run or walk. Some might choose to have a fun and lively picnic with a large group of friends while others find solitude on a quiet bench reading. And, just a few yards away, others are walking their dogs, joining the Sunday outdoor lindy hop, strolling through the rose garden, or suffering through a paddle boat ride on a rickety old boat on the Stowe Lake. The point is- everyone uses the city’s greenbelt in a way that suits them at that moment in time. And, what to do and how to do it is completely up to each individual park-goer. We then connected this idea to writing.

In Greenbelt writing, young writers have complete choice over absolutely everything- genre, writing partners (or no writing partners), topic, place to work, publication for all to read or not, etc. Essentially, it is a space and time for students to discover who they are and what they need as writers. Needless to say, after this idea was first introduced, there were squeals of joy and wide eyed anticipation for the possibilities to come!

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Students can choose to share their pieces on our classroom Greenbelt wall.

Roughly once a week now for the past few months, one of our writing workshop sessions has been dedicated to greenbelt writing. In addition, when students feel they need a break from assignments, they are encouraged to do what is best for their growth as an individual writer, which may be to take a break from the assignment and head into the greenbelt- I compare this idea to the time I was writing my thesis in graduate school. I could have sat and written that thesis straight for eight hours a day without a break, but it probably would not have been my best writing. Rather, I wrote it in shorter bursts, taking a break to explore other creative ventures. And, those other creative ventures actually made me a better writer and my thesis a stronger piece of writing. Those creative ventures added to who I was as a writer.

This is the beautiful side effect of Greenbelt writing- by exploring who they truly are as writers, my students’ assigned writing volume and quality has also increased. It’s amazing what kids can do when we put all of the decision making power in their hands.

Thank you, Ralph. Thank you for helping me to inspire my young writers. You’ve given so many teachers and students such a gift with Joy Write.

 

 

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Another small sample from the Greenbelt…  You never know what young students will come up with when given the opportunity to explore who they are as writers!

 

Kids These Days

“I want to write about what happened at the school in Florida,” is the phrase that started the conversation today with my fifth graders.

I’ll let this email to my classroom families explain the rest.

Dear Classroom Families,
          I’m writing to let you know that we had a whole class discussion today about what happened in Florida. It was not planned- it came up naturally. 
          During our morning meeting, I asked the kids to think about an issue they care about for our argument writing pre-assessment later today, which is a regular part of our fifth grade curriculum (we call these on-demand writing assessments). The kids started to share out their ideas: Pollution, global warming, and then one student said she wanted to write about “what happened at the school in Florida.” Suddenly, hands flew in the air, and the kids really wanted to express their thinking around the topic, which turned into a talk about what they think and feel about school safety and even the issue with guns. Please know that I completely kept my opinion out of the conversation and just made sure they had a safe space to express their thinking.  We actually have a lot of differing opinions and beliefs in class, and the kids did a beautiful job listening to each other and talking out how they feel. I’m very proud of all of them. 
          I told them I was going to write to you to let you know that this issue came up in class, and that it is a conversation they should also share with you when they get home today if they still wanted to talk about it.  Please, do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions. Again, this wasn’t planned, but I am glad we had the conversation because many kids in class desperately wanted to share their thinking.
-Christina 
Did I say and do the right things? I think so. I hope so. I’m not sure.  However, one thing I know for sure is that kids these days are just incredible. We, adults, could learn a great deal from them. They listened to each other, they actually heard each other, and when one had a differing opinion from another, they tried to understand where that person was coming from as opposed to trying to convince them otherwise. It was refreshing to listen in as they lead the honest, mature conversation.
If dialogue like this continues to happen in our schools and in our homes with the younger generation, our future as a country is in good hands. We need to start listening more to our kids rather than telling them what we think. They have a lot to teach us. I hope our present leaders take note.
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Book Thoughts: LOVE by Matt de la Peña

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Yesterday, we read Love as a class for the first time. This important book, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long, brought about thoughtful discussion and challenged some thinking. For our first read yesterday, I slowly read the book aloud once straight through pausing to allow students to spend some time with each image. Students thought and turned and talked a few times during this first read.

Today, I read it aloud again. As I did, students freely jotted and sketched their thinking in their notebooks.  Then, we had a great discussion. After our discussion, students jotted and sketched again.

Here are a few of those thoughts from their jots and sketches…

 

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Book Thoughts are the unedited jots and sketches from my readers during and after a shared read aloud and discussion. Reading, thinking, and jotting together is perhaps one of our most impactful classroom activities.

 

 

 

Book Mingle!

I’ve been thinking lately that my fifth graders need more opportunities to talk about books that they are reading  and learn about books that may be new to them. We often do book talks as a whole class and partner talks, but I wanted to incorporate a more fun and casual way to chat about books. So, last week in class we started a new activity to get us moving and quickly talking about books. We call this activity The Fifth Grade Book Mingle! Book Mingling happens in a few simple steps.

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Step 1: Students come in at the start of the school day and get right to our morning soft start (thank you, Sara Ahmed!). During soft starts, students enter the room, put their things away, and settle into reading a book of their choice for 15-30 minutes. It is a great way to start the day! All of my students read and I get to confer with them as they do. We do this every single day.

Step 2: I ask students to come to a good stopping point in their books and then announce,”Get ready to mingle!”

Step 3: Music starts and students move about the room while holding up their books in view of their fellow minglers.

Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 9.58.36 AMStep 4: Music stops, students talk about their books and ask each other questions! To get students going with this, I modeled talking about my current read, Love by Matt de la Peña, with a couple different students. I talked about what I really liked about the book and how it made me think and feel. I also asked questions about the books my temporary book mingle partners were reading.

 

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 a few times!

Book mingling is such a fun way to get kids up and moving, talking about their books, and then learning about new books their friends are reading- which will grow their to-read lists. My goal is to do this with my fifth graders two to three times each week. With book mingling, engagement is high and the talk around books is natural and authentic.