Finishing Strong & A Conversation with Tina Athaide: Books Between, Episode 73

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!

Intro

Hello and welcome to Books Between –  a podcast for teachers, parents, librarians, and anyone who wants to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – 5th grade teacher, a mom of two girls (10 and 12), and muddling through some allergies. So if you are wondering why I sound “off” – we can blame all those plants trying to have babies!  A quick reminder before we get started that you can find transcripts and interview outlines of every episode – along with lots of other great middle great content over at MGBookVillage.org.

This is episode #73 and today’s show starts off with a discussion about strong endings to the school year and then I share with you a conversation with Tina Athaide- author of Orange for the Sunsets.

Main Topic – Finishing the Year Strong

Our main topic today is ending the school year with your students with strength and purpose. And wrapping up those final weeks together in a way that allows for both reflection on their reading lives and a way to step forward into a summer that builds on the successes of the previous year.

It’s like the school year is the runway and the summer is the solo flight after take-off! If you haven’t been building those reading habits all year long, then… well that lift off is going to fall flat.  But – there are some things that we can do to plan for a strong transition from that supportive classroom reading community to a strong independent reading life. For me, my school year up here in New York doesn’t end for another five weeks but lots of my friends are already wrapping up their school year so I thought it would be a good time to discuss this topic. And whether you are a parent, or a librarian, or a teacher there will be something in today’s show that you will find useful.

First, we’ll talk building in time for reflection and what that can look like. Then, I’ll discuss some ways for students to celebrate and share the reading they’ve enjoyed during the past school year. And finally, I’ll chat about how to usher them into summer with a solid reading plan and hopefully some books in their hands.

Reflection

One of the most effective ways to cap off your school year is with some time for reflection and feedback. And there are a few options for you to consider.

  1. A student survey for YOU to grow as a teacher. So this would involve asking your students questions to help get feedback to help you improve. These  questions might be – What was your favorite read aloud this year?  What strategies helped you grow the most as a reader? Did you prefer partner reading or book clubs and why? What types of reading responses helped you get the most of your reading?  Should we read more nonfiction? What books should we get for our classroom library? Pernille Ripp uses these types of surveys exceptionally well, and I’ll link to her website to get some ideas for you to try and to tweak.
  2. It’s also really important that students get the opportunity to write about and discuss their own reading habits and growth – for their own self-reflection. In that case, since the purposes are very different, the questions you ask your students will be different. And if you’ve helped them build that habit of keeping good track of their reading, this will be a thousand times easier. These questions might be along the lines of – How many books did you read this year? How does that compare to last year?  Of the books you’ve read, how many were non-fiction? How many were graphic novels? Written by a person of color? Written by a man? Were historical fiction? What was your favorite book you’ve read? How many books did you abandon and why? Those questions that dig a bit deeper are so powerful – especially when given the opportunity to share those thoughts with others.
  3. Another way that you can have your students doing some powerful thinking and reflection about the books they are offered is by guiding them through a diversity audit of your classroom collection or library. If you want details about this, I’ve discussed it in more depth in episode 28 (which I will link to in the show notes), but I highly recommend you try this at least one time with your class. And it doesn’t have to be an analysis of all the books in your library. Maybe it’s just a 15 minute check of the biographies together with two or three guiding questions.  At the end of the year -it’s all about using the time you have flexibly and well.BB28Banner2
  4. A great self-reflection method I just bumped into again recently was Pernille Ripp’s post (called “On Reading Rewards”) about having students create an award for themselves to celebrate their own achievement – whether that’s reading 35 books, or discovering a new genre, or just finding one book they really liked. I’ll link to her post with the full description and to the site where you can get those free Reading Certificate templates for students.  

Celebration & Sharing

Along with opportunities for self-reflection and thinking about their own reading accomplishments during the previous year, I think it’s also so important to give students a chance to show off those accomplishments!

  1. One educator that I follow on Twitter (Cassie Thomas – @mrs_cmt1489), had her students gather a stack of every book they’ve read during the year and took a picture of them with that book stack! What  powerful way to see how what a year’s worth of reading looks like!Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 12.15.35 AM
  2. Another popular (and powerful) way to have students both reflect on their reading and share it, is to have them create a top ten (or so) list. I’ve absolutely modified that to a Top 5 or Top 3 list for those kiddos who were rather daunted by coming up with ten titles.  It could be something as simple as the Top 10 Books I’ve Read This Year. Or maybe Top 5 Sports Books, 7 Books To Make You Laugh, Top 8 Books That Made Me Cry, Top 10 Books If You Like History – really the options are endless! And lend themselves well to having those quick finishers make a couple of them. In a recent video by Colby Sharp, he mentioned that he has his class share the lists with him in a Google doc where he complies them, prints out all the lists, and then sends the lists home with the kids for the summer!  So if they are ever looking for a book suggestion, they have a ton of options from their classmates right on hand. I’m definitely doing that this year! (I’ll link to Colby’s video so you can check out his other ideas.)
  3. A third way to celebrate and share their reading? One-pagers! If you have not tried these yet – the end of the year is the perfect time!  Essentially, students go into greater depth with one of their favorite books by creating a one-page presentation. Typically they are very colorful and include strong visual elements to illuminate aspects of the book like drawings of symbols, characters, or represeScreen Shot 2019-05-28 at 12.18.35 AMntations of the book cover.  And the sections depend on your goals – often things like a character analysis, favorite quote, rating, or summary. My students really loved doing these and even had the idea of hanging some in our local public library. And I recently came across a great episode of The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast with guest Betsy Potash that offers some great tips and templates to use. I’ll also include a link directly to Betsy’s site if you want to see those great examples and snag those templates.
  4. One other idea to help students celebrate and share their reading is to harness the technology skills they’ve already practiced during the year for that purpose. For example, if your students are already using Flipgrid, have them use that tool to do a book talk for a favorite book, share their top ten list, or discuss patterns they noticed about their reading during the past year. If the kids are more comfortable with SeeSaw, they could do similar things with the video tool or do some annotating of their favorite books and make booksnaps about favorite books or characters.  Powerpoint or Google Slides has some cool features – especially to make charts and graphs. One piece of advice here – use technology that they are already familiar with and can work independently on. That way, while they are working, you can take care of those important, time-consuming end-of-the-year tasks like conducting final running records on each student or wrapping up some final scoring on assignments.  

A Plan & Books in Their Hands

A summer reading plan:

Let’s talk about the plan first. This could be a formal, written plan – but honestly, at the end of the year that might be just a little too structured for summer. Instead, I like to share various ideas and options for kids to boost their reading life over the summer. And then have us all share with each other how to overcome some common obstacles. So here’s what that will look like for our class over the next couple of weeks before school ends:

  • Creating their summer TBR list. Maybe this is based on the Top 10 Lists your class presented or maybe they build a TBR list during a trip to the library, but having that piece of paper is really helpful.
  • Invite our wonderful children’s librarian from our local public library to come in and share with our class the awesome summer programs they have planned.  If the timing doesn’t work out for them to travel, a virtual Google Hangout visit or Skype could work, too. Our local library also used to allow for off-site library card sign-ups so check into that as well.
  • Give the kids a list of any summer reading programs or activities you can find in your community.  Does your local bookstore have any cool book signings or summer events planned? Is there a Children’s Book Festival happening?  Does your community have a traveling library? Is there a summer book club offered at your school? Where are the locations of the Little Free Libraries in your  area? Will the local library have a booth at the Pride Festival this June? (Mine will!!!!)
  • Introduce them to some virtual spaces where they can get reading ideas and share their reading life.  If they are old enough for social media (13 years old) – perhaps share some accounts to follow. Or encourage them to sign up for a Goodreads account. But honestly – they are most likely going to be on YouTube. So a list of great YouTubers to follow would probably be the most appreciated and actually used by your students.
  • And if you think your students would use it, you could set up a summer reading Fligrid or SeeSaw or other digical space to them to share. I tried this last year and it was a bit of a bust, but maybe I’ll give it another go.

Alright, so…. Ideally, I’ll have those resources and ideas compiled into one document for students to take home at the end of the year. And then we’ll have a quick discussion together about which ones they want to participate in, and what are going to be obstacles.   Perhaps they can share a brief and flexible plan in their reading journal or on SeeSaw or Flipgrid.

Getting books in their hands:

And finally – the all important getting books in their hands before they leave for the summer! There are a few ways to do this.

  • Have your end-of-the-year gift be a book. Right now I am in a self-contained class and have 21 students. So I can swing this by saving up Scholastic points and entering a lot of giveaways on Twitter and Goodreads.  Next year I’ll be teaching all the 5th graders, so this option might be less doable.
  • One idea I’ve considered instead of selecting a new book for each child based on what I know of their reading life, is to let them pick out one book from our classroom library to take home to keep.
  • Another option is to suggest your PTO/PTA give the graduating class a book as they leave the school. My PTO has done this for the last few years. And it sends a powerful message about what is important and what is valued in our school. Last year is was 365 Days of Wonder and this year will either be New Kid or a picture book like Rock What Ya Got.
  • Another idea that I have seen be very successful is to have a book swap by encouraging families to bring in gently used books for kids to exchange. Our middle school kept them all in a brightly colored kiddie pool with a beach chair next to it.
  • More and more libraries are doing summer check out – which I LOVE!!  So if your school is not yet one of those, maybe arm yourself with some great research and start putting a bug in the ear of the powers-that-be to make that change.
  • Allow kids to check out books from your classroom library is another way to get books in their hands for the summer. My 5th graders are leaving to a new school. So instead, at the end of the year we had an opportunity to meet our incoming 4th grade class. And after some quick introductions, I let each child pick 2-3 books they wanted to take home and read over the summer.  Before they left, I just took a quick picture of them with their stack so I knew which books were out. But other than that, there was no check-out procedure. I like this for a few reasons. One, it shows them right away that our classroom library is the heart of our class and that I want to get to know them as people and as readers. And that whatever book they picked was fine by me. It’s all reading. Also – we’re starting from a place of trust. I trust them to take those books home and return them.  And sure, some didn’t come back. But as Donalyn Miller has so often said, “I’d rather lose a book than lose a reader.”

I hope that no matter if you are a teacher, a librarian, or parent that you have found something useful in today’s discussion that will help you foster more independent readers. And no matter what time of year you may stumble across this episode, building in time for reflection, celebrating and sharing our reading lives, and making plans to read more on our own is always a great idea.  

And as always, we are learning together so please share with us your ideas and successes for ending the year strong. You can connect with me on Twitter or Instagram – our handle is @books_between or email me at booksbetween@gmail.com and I’d love to share your ideas.

Tina Athaide – Interview Outline

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This week I am thrilled to bring you an interview with debut author Tina Athaide! We chat about her research process, the novels that influenced her as a child, writing tips to pass along to the young authors in your life, and of course – her debut historical novel set in 1970s Uganda –  Orange for the Sunsets.

Take a listen…

Orange for the Sunsets

Welcome! I’d like to start by giving you an opportunity to introduce yourself to our listeners…

I’m an educator by day and writer by night. When I started teaching in Southern CA, I was 51JRwk61JeL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_amazed how little information my students had about other cultures and ethnic groups and always thought they could learn so much from books. Thankfully these days we are seeing an increase in books written about marginalized groups by marginalized writers.

What is Orange for the Sunsets about?

It set in 1972 and tells the story of Asha-an Asian Indian girl and her best friend Yesofu a Ugandan boy and how their lives are turned upside down when President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country.  Asha comes from a life of privilege, but even then it isn’t as privileged as the Europeans. Yesofu’s family works for Asha’s parents. They are servants in their own country. Idi’ Amin’s expulsion means different things for these two characters, which creates a conflict that threatens to tear apart their friendship.  This was a period in history that very few people knew about, especially here in North America and I felt it was important to share this story.

What was your research process like to make sure you were getting not only the history correct, but the 1970’s details accurate?

Without dating myself, I have to confess that I have personal connections to this story. I was born in Entebbe, but my family left just before the expulsion.. Growing up I heard many stories about life in Uganda and subsequently the horrors of the expulsion. Early drafts were solely from Asha’s point of view. Yesofu had a role in the book, but I never delved into what the expulsion meant for him. An editor that was interested in the story actually recommended that I write the book from both Asha and Yesofu’s POV.

BACK TO THE DRAWING board and revisions. Actually…rewriting the entire book!

I was Asian, writing about the Asian Indian experience. I had some knowledge about the Uganda experiences, but not enough to really give Yesofu an authentic and honesty voice. That involved research.

I spoke to Indians and Ugandans about their experiences during that period of history, beyond just family and friends. I wanted to know their opinions about Idi Amin’s expulsion, how their lives were affected.  I travelled to Kenya and spoke to Kenyan and Ugandan Africans about this time period.

What was also very helpful wasI read articles written during those ninety days from newspapers around the world. When Idi Amin originally expelled Asians, he kicked out those Indians holding British passports and citizenship.  But when he ordered all Asian Indians out of the country, the UN asked countries to open their borders and accept refugees….That included the United States.

Although your story is set over 40 years ago and in a country across the globe, it has so many parallels to what’s happening in America now with the rise of populist anti-immigrant sentiment that veers in violence. Did you intentionally want to capture some of those similar sentiments?  

It saddens me that in this day and age there are such close parallels between the story in Orange For the Sunset and the strong rise of anti-immigrant sentiment across the globe.  It wasn’t intentional on my part to capture those similarities, but that period of history with Idi Amin and the brutality toward Indians unfortunately mirrors current sentiments.

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: We discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 38:12 mark.

How has this book changed from your earlier drafts to this final version?

Were there parts that you loved but you had to edit out?

Your Writing Life

What are you working on now?

I have a picture book coming out in 2020 about a young child, Sita and her grandfather, Gandhi. She is spirited and full of vigor and he teaches her to give how slowing down opens you up to see and appreciate so much more in life.

I am working on a MG fantasy book about a young boy who is destined to be keeper of the Pancha Maha-Bhoota–the five great elements of nature. It weaves in elements of Hindu mythology with flying garuda and naga cobras. What is most exciting is the character travels through time to real places in India so readers will get to visit these spectacular sites.

My students and kids are always eager to hear writing advice from authors.  What’s a tip or trick that you’ve picked along the way that has helped your writing?

When I finish writing the rough draft, I go through the manuscript and use different colors to highlight emotional points, plot points, dialogue.  Then I will read through the story focusing on each color and it give me a narrow and wide lens as I revise.

Your Reading Life

What are some books or authors that influenced you as a child?

Growing up, there were no books in the local library or school library with people of color, so l went on adventures with Trixie Belden, Anne of Green Gables, and Anastacia Krupnik. Each in their own way those writers influenced me, even if it was to show me how books took you places different from your own world.  I loved the Narnia series by CS Lewis and Harriet the Spy and the Outsiders.

What are some books that you’ve read lately that you’d recommend to our listeners?

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krisnaswami

The Bridge Home by PadmaVenkatraman

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

 

Thank You!

LINKS:

Tina on Twitter – @tathaide

Mae on Instagram – @tinaathaide

 

Closing

Alright – that’s it for our show this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they will love or an idea about a guest we should have or a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at booksbetween@gmail.com or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can find an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at MGBookVillage.org.  And, if you are liking the show, please help others find us too by telling a friend, sharing on social media, or leaving a rating on iTunes or Stitcher.

Talk with you soon!  Bye!

CorrinaAllen

Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

 

 

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