Today we are excited to welcome 5th grade ELAR educator Cassie Thomas to the #MGBookVillage as part of our month-long celebration of educators!
Please tell us about yourself!
My name is Cassie Thomas. I am a 5th grade ELAR educator deep in the heart of Texas in New Braunfels! I am a mama of soon to be two kiddos and stand in mama for about 75 more here at school. My teaching philosophy revolves around choice and questioning. I, myself, am an avid reader through Book Voyage and my teaching blog www.TeachersWhoRead.com.
Who are some of your favorite middle grade books or authors?
This is seriously the hardest and most loaded question I get and answer. I am forever grateful for Jason Reynolds and all of the kids he has gotten to read and love reading by his writing style. Author wise the list could go on: Elly Swartz, Nanci Turner Stevenson, Kwame Alexander, Watt Key, Erin Entrada Kelly, Kate DiCamillo, Alan Gratz, Tracey Baptiste, Dan Gemeinhart, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Ellen Oh. Some of the favorite books from the past few years: The Wild Robot, The Science of Unbreakable Things, Front Desk, Ghost Boys, The War That Saved My Life (1&2), Spirit Hunters, Long Way Down, The Stars Beneath Our Feet, Amal Unbound, The Night Diary – Seriously this list could go on and on! Anything I post about on social media is something to be read in middle grade in my opinion.
Take a picture of something in your classroom and tell us the story behind it.
My students use this wall to write reviews on neon library cards for students to search for what they may want to read next. If I could make any changes, I think I would do specific colors for genres so that if a child is very into fantasy they would know to look at like the pink card. The kids learn how to write reviews without giving away information or endings. They are amazing!
What does your literacy instruction look like?
Our classes are around 85 minutes. I have three rotations. The students come in and I have a non-negotiable of reading for 20-30 minutes solid every day. At the beginning of the year we do a shorter amount of time so that we can build up our stamina and also because I teach using the Notice and Note strategies. So the beginning of the year is a lot of independent reading, mini lesson, apply to picture books, apply to their own books, and then at the end of class we revisit the strategy and discuss. We do this for about the first 18 weeks of school. This then sets the tone for the rest of the year. I also teach the students how to respond to their reading in a very thorough way by writing me letters answering BHH questions (brain, head, heart from Disrupting Thinking). Our writing lessons are then intertwined throughout the school year as well.
Do you also teach writing? If so, how do you use reading to teach writing, and writing to teach reading?
I do teach writing! We have a specific timeline of different pieces my students are to write throughout the year, so I make sure and follow that to meet our state standards, BUT we also do a ton of writing through what we are reading. We use current read alouds, either chapter books or picture books, as mentor texts. One of my favorite lessons this year I borrowed from my friend Sandy over at ELA Everyday was doing Kobe Bryant’s passion poem. The students then wrote their own about what they were passionate about. It was really amazing to read what truly mattered to my kids. I also love when they can write imaginative stories. The amount of reading that they have done this year has played a huge part in how amazing their writing has also turned out.
Like I mentioned already, the reading responses that we do become more and more phenomenal as the year goes on. They really start to think about their reading after we learn the signposts and then they apply that to whatever chapter book they are currently reading. My principal is again a huge supporter in reading and he has mentioned that my kids success in writing is a big reflection on their reading lives as well.
What are the “hot” books in your classroom right now?
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Track Series by Jason Reynolds
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart
The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish
What professional development book influenced you most as a teacher?
The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. I think I speak for most educators who love reading and teaching reading when I say that her books have easily become my classroom bibles. They have sticky notes all throughout and things highlighted/underlined. I make sure and reread through them every summer to remember what is the most important thing in the reading classroom – reading and talking about reading.
How do you create a culture of reading in your classroom or school?
I read, I give them time to read every day, I also provide them with the choice – whatever they want to read they can. When I book talk books they seem to go off the shelf faster than I can keep them in stock. I also have an Audible account that allows my students to have that experience as well. When students came to me this year hating reading/struggling to read on level, Audible has opened all new doors for them. So much that some of them even branched away from audiobooks because they could then start reading on their own and at a quicker pace. I also do #classroombookaday as well as host a Mock Newbery club and then after Newbery awards are over, I started Breakfast and Books. We talk about books every single day. Our room is not only a classroom, but a library. I give them opportunity after opportunity to find new stories they can get lost in. It has rubbed off on the school too, I find teachers asking me for ideas and getting excited about reading again. It helps too that my principal is such a huge advocate of reading as well!
Want more inspiration? Check out the other #MGEducators interviews and guests posts!