Why Poetry? Check it out

Hi everyone,

My good friends and colleagues, Laura Robb and Evan Robb, invited me to the blog they share with educators and friends of children’s literature. I was delighted to contribute my response to their prompt: Why Poetry?” I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read it and let me know what you think. Here’s the link. http://therobbreviewblog.com

While you’re there, please familiarize yourself with their blog and all that Laura and Evan have to offer. He’s a highly recognized school principal, author, and speaker, and she is famous everywhere for her work as a teacher, coach, speaker, and author.


Welcoming a friend this week

Hi everyone,

The gremlins struck during the night so I’ve just now finally rediscovered how to post on my blog (I think). I’m keeping this short in case I’m wrong. A highlight of this week will be on Wednesday when my good friend Laura Robb will be in town to speak and we’ll take her out for dinner. I haven’t had a chance to visit with Laura for far too long so I’m excited to be with her again. We’ve been brainstorming for ages for a book to write together so maybe this time we’ll be lucky. laurarobb http://www.heinemann.com/authors/352.aspx
Otherwise it’s a work week focused on the upcoming trips to Pennsylvania and New York.

New one in the works

Hi everyone,
David publicity photo
I’m pleased to tell you that I have a new book of poetry in the works. The contract should be along shortly. I’ve written the first ten poems so I still have a long way to go but it’s always exciting to have a new challenge. I’ll add more later but for now I’d better hold off on naming publisher or subject matter.

I’m also about halfway through a collection of poems on a different theme for a different publisher. No contract on that one yet but good preliminary vibes. Not only is the artist already involved on that one, it was his idea.

The search is still on for an artist for a third book of poems. My work on that one is finished so it’s now a matter of waiting to find the right artist and move into that phase of development.

The book in verse that Sandy Asher and I wrote is with an editor who has expressed strong interest so we’re waiting for her final decision before doing a happy dance.

Haven’t placed the collection I did with Jane Yolen yet but it’s early in the hunt and I have high hopes.

A good many other projects are in the works, including professional books with Mary Jo Fresch, Tim Rasinski, and Laura Robb, so I’m not finding much slack time these days. Bring ‘em on!


Laura Robb today

REMINDER: Voting for June’s WOM poets ends Monday at noon CST. Don’t forget to vote!

Hi everyone,

I’m always excited when I can bring you someone who has done as much for children’s literacy as today’s Featured Guest, Laura Robb. She is in constant demand as a lecturer, reading coach, conference keynoter, and author. As the old saying goes, when Laura speaks, people listen. So now here is my friend, Laura Robb.

Here’s what I said when I posted Laura the first time: “Tell friends that Laura is posted today so they can also enjoy what she has to tell us. Her remarks today are about encouraging and supporting young readers.” Now I say it again.


by Laura Robb

A study of why students scored high on an international reading test taken by 32 countries was written up in the January, 2008 issue of The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. The authors were more interested in what was unique about the reading lives and habits of some students that enabled them to score high. What they discovered relates directly to independent practice reading. One indicator was the amount of leisure reading students did at home and in school. Another key indicator was the diversity and length of texts students read. Those who scored the highest read long texts that included magazines, newspapers, fiction, and nonfiction; Those whose scores were solid but not as high as the group who read long texts read shorter texts that included magazines, comic, newspapers, fiction, and nonfiction.

The choices we teachers offer students, the diversity of texts in our classroom libraries, sharing these findings with students so they know the score and can make informed decisions about practice reading, and the amount of time students have for independent reading work together to build students’ ability to concentrate on a wide variety of texts.

Providing Choice

When I invite my students to write about their experiences with class libraries, and what they value about them, two matters always surface: 1) being given the opportunity to choose their own books and 2) having time to read at school.

The word choice always reminds me of the Arthurian Legend, “Gawain and the Loathley Lady” in The Sword and the Circle (Sutcliffe, 1981). The knight, Gawain, loves and wishes to marry the Lady Ragnell who is half free of a spell that makes her hideously ugly or beautiful half of each day. Once Gawain tells his love to make the choice whether she wishes to be beautiful by day and hideously ugly at night or the reverse, he breaks the spell that is upon her. By giving the Lady Ragnell choice, Sir Gawain shows a deep understanding of a basic need all of us have–the need to choose and exercise control over our lives. The right to choose was such a powerful force that it broke the enchantment and freed Ragnell to be her beautiful self all the time. Our students, like us and Ragnell, crave opportunities to choose, for choice gives us control over our lives and supports growth in reading.

In addition to choice being a desire among all age groups, offering middle schoolers the right to choose books has extra advantages because choice:


students’ literary tastes, enabling them to discover what they do and don’t enjoy reading;


students’ personal reading lives; students are more likely to read at home when they know the kinds of books that engage and interest them;


students that you trust them to select books that meet their needs;


students’ self-confidence as they repeatedly choose books they want to finish;


reading fluency and reading stamina; choice makes it more likely that a student will reread favorite books and deepen their understanding of them; and


students learn to concentrate —because they are more likely to complete books they want to read.

Providing Time To Read At School

Equally as important as choice is providing time to read during class. Without exception, my own research and the research of others have shown that middle school students value class time to read because once they leave school, homework and after school activities take up most of the day and evening. Eleanor, an eighth grader, noted an added benefit of time to read at school: “People who don’t enjoy reading don’t read out of school. But if you have to read in school, you might learn to enjoy it.” Making the time for independent reading can be a challenge. Consider the suggestions that have worked at my school and at schools where I coach teachers: Language arts teachers with daily, 90 minute class blocks can reserve 15 to 20 minutes a week for independent, silent reading. Teachers with 45 minute classes can set aside 15-20 minutes twice a week.
Teachers with self-contained classes can schedule silent reading at least four times a week, preferably five.

Silent reading at home and at school provides middle school students with the practice reading they need to enlarge their vocabulary and background knowledge, improve reading rate and fluency, develop their imaginations, mental imaging abilities, and inferential thinking.

Encourage Reflection With Book Logs

To help my students think about and share their independent reading, I have them keep a book log. Students can create this simple book log form: Student’s name at the top; title and author and date completed for each book read. Book logs can encourage students to reflect on their independent reading lives, make book-to-book connections, and reveal to you their reading tastes and habits. But they’re only effective if they are used wisely. What do I mean by that? I mean that first, students have to be given three to five minutes twice a week to update their book logs. Without this time set aside, the logs suffer the same fate as home exercise machines! Students come to see them as busy work. Second, students must interact with the data in the logs. Without this social component, it seems of little value to students. For example, about half way through the school year, book log writing is in need of an infusion of prompts. I set aside about five to seven minutes for students to review their book logs. Next, I invite pairs or groups to brainstorm for a few minutes to create a list of discussion points and questions they would be eager to answer in future book log entries. I compile all the ideas on the chalkboard or chart paper.

Prompts for Book Log Reflections

Here’s the list one class of eighth graders composed:
Books we loved and reread.
The number of books read early in the year compared to the number of books read at this point in the year.
Compare the amount of independent reading completed in past years to this year.

Think about the kinds of genres you’re reading using these questions:
Is it the same genre or is there variety?
Are the books very long, short, or a mixture of both?
Is there a certain author you really enjoy and seek out?
Is there a book you have reread many times or one you plan to reread?
What makes this book so special that you repeatedly reread it?
Is there a book you’d recommend to a classmate? Explain why.
Once students experience that reviewing their book logs can help them gather insights into their personal reading lives, they tend to be serious about reflecting on their lists of books.

Book logs help students discover books others enjoyed. My students value book recommendations from classmates that come from their book logs, from short two to four minute monthly oral book talks, and by reading one another’s short, strong opinions about books on the graffiti board. Christa summed up benefits of sharing books this way: “I love the book talks ‘cause they give me ideas for reading I would never have chosen.”

Laura Robb tomorrow

REMINDER: We’re voting now for June’s Hall of Fame Poet so don’t forget to cast your ballot. Scroll down the ballot box (posted yesterday) to the poem of your choice. Click in the circle beside the name and click on the vote button below. That’s it. You can only vote once. All of the poems are listed below the ballot box for easy reference if you need to refresh your memory.

Hi everyone,

Continuing with my summer program of Featured Guests who have appeared at an earlier date, my guest for tomorrow will be Laura Robb. Laura is a tireless promoter of reading, a master teacher, a careful researcher, a popular author of books about reading development, and much sought after consultant and lecturer. Here is more information about tomorrow’s guest.

Author, teacher, consultant, Laura Robb has taught grades 4 through 8 for 43 years. Robb continues to teach for eight weeks each year. She has written 19 books on reading and writing for teachers and published materials for Great Source for students. Robb speaks at conferences all over the country and trains teachers in school districts in Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. She has received an Honorary Doctorate from Shenandoah University for her work in literacy and in 2009 received the “Friend of Literacy Award” from Nassau Reading Council in New York. Robb has two new books coming out this spring: Teaching Middle School Writers: What Every English Teacher Needs to Know published by Heinemann and a second edition of Teaching Reading in Middle School, published by Scholastic.

You can reach Laura Robb and find many teaching materials on her Web site: www.LRobb.com

Be sure to visit tomorrow to read what Laura has to share with us. You’ll be glad you did!