Real-World Tasks in the ELA Classroom: Goodreads

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“In this the-more-assessments-the-better culture, can teachers still create real-world learning experiences in their classrooms? You better believe it!

One of the best professional development workshops I attended was a technology session with Dr. Zachary Walker (@lastbackpack). Since technology permeates the 21st century classroom–as well as the world in which our students dwell, Walker observed, “if we’re preparing our students correctly, the last day of school should be exactly like their first day out of school.”


This forced me to rethink just about everything I do in my room. Since a colleague, Chris (@cjgosselin), and I share the professional goal of fostering a love of reading within our students, we began thinking of engaging, real-world tasks we could assign that adult bibliophiles do in their everyday lives.

Enter Goodreads.

If you are unfamiliar with Goodreads, it is a social network where over 40 million bibliophiles are already cataloging, discussing, reviewing, and sharing great books. Here is how we implemented this real-world experience within our high school classes.

1. CREATING AN ACCOUNT. We asked our students to create a free account (for those who were not already members). Because our students are all minors, we always suggest that their usernames consist of their first name and last initial only (for cyber safety).”  Read the entire piece here

Check out the rest of the author’s blog here. 


The Tyranny of Reading Levels

Kathy Cassidy via Compfight cc

Kathy Cassidy via Compfight cc

Reading levels can be a great tool or strategy for teaching, but they shouldn’t be used to discourage kids from reading to their younger siblings or from stretching themselves to explore a book that looks interesting.

Here’s a great post from Choice Literacy called the Tyranny of Reading Levels:

“Education has produced a vast population able to read, but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.
                                                                   G. M. Trevelyan

“Once upon a time, there was a third-grade girl, Daisy, who loved to read. She read all the time. While she liked to read about horses and outer space, she especially loved to read stories. She had read every single Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, and Amber Brown book ever written.  Recently, she had been into reading books about animals and had read Shiloh and Charlotte’s Web.

One day, as she browsed through books at the school library, she found a book with a beautiful cover of a girl wearing glasses holding a comic book. When she saw it, she thought, “that girl looks like me!” She ran her fingers over the letters scrawled grandly across the cover and read the title aloud: Flora and Ulysses. It was then that she noticed a small animal tucked up in the corner which compelled her to read the back cover. As her eyes skimmed over the words describing a story about a squirrel who gets run over by a vacuum cleaner and strangely develops super powers, she opened the book and began to read.” Read the rest of the piece here.

Great Tips for Teaching Vocabulary

flickr photo by CollegeDegrees360 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Many teachers find it challenging to create strong lessons for vocabulary development. This Edutopia piece by Rebecca Alber does an excellent job outlining various ways to help students widen their vocabulary.

“Every Monday my seventh grade English teacher would have us copy a list of 25 words she’d written on the board. We’d then look up the dictionary definitions and copy those down. For homework, we’d re-write each word seven times.

Good, now you know it. Test on Friday and never for those 25 words to be seen again. Poof. Old school, yes. Mundane task, yes. Did it work? I don’t remember. Probably not.

Copying definitions from the dictionary we would probably all agree is not an effective way to learn vocabulary. Passive learning hardly ever is. It’s just often the way we learned, and as teachers, we sometimes fall back on using these ways when teaching rather than taking a good look at student data, the latest research, and then trying something new.

The truth is, and the research shows, students need multiple and various exposures to a word before they fully understand that word and can apply it. They need also to learn words in context, not stand alone lists that come and go each week. Of course the way we learn words in context, or implicitly, is by reading, then reading some more. (This is why every classroom should have a killer classroom library stocked full of high-interest, age appropriate books.)” 

Read the entire piece here.

How Much Text Complexity Can Teachers Scaffold?

flickr photo by basheem shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Professor Timothy Shanahan writes an excellent blog on literacy. His latest post, “How Much Text Complexity Can Teachers Scaffold?” is a great and thoughtful read.

“How much of a “gap” can be compensated through differentiation? If my readers are at a 400 Lexile level, is there an effective way to use a 820 level chapter book? 

            This is a great question. (Have you ever noticed that usually means the responder thinks he has an answer).

            For years, teachers were told that students had to be taught with books that matched their ability, or learning would be reduced. As a teacher I bought into those notions. I tested every one of my students with informal reading inventories, one-on-one, and then tried to orchestrate multiple groups with multiple book levels. This was prior to the availability of lots of short paperback books that had been computer scored for F & P levels or Lexiles, so I worked with various basal readers to make this work.

            However, a careful look at the research shows me that almost no studies have found any benefits from such matching. In fact, if one sets aside those studies that focused on children who were reading no higher than a Grade 1 level, then the only results supporting specific student-text matches are those arguing for placing students at what we would have traditionally called their frustration level.”

Read the entire piece here.

Recommended Blog ~ Two Writing Teachers


If you are a teacher of writing, you’re going to want to take a peek at the blog, Two Writing Teachers. On their mission page they state:

Good teaching is good teaching. Too often we get caught up in what’s happening in our own classroom walls or in the faculty lounge of our own school building. This blog is a place that erases all of those barriers and focuses simply on teaching kids to write and catching minds in the midst. It’s happening in cities, in suburbs, and in small towns all over the globe.  


For teachers to be fueled with a passion for teaching, writing, and living.
For teachers to see the latest in research and ways to apply it in their classrooms.
For us to “practice what we preach” by sharing our own writing.
To bring writing teachers together to share ideas and stretch each other’s thinking.
To reflect on our teaching — celebrating when it goes well and working it out when it doesn’t.”

Scroll down to the bottom of the page and dip into the extensive categories they have written about.