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June 1, 2016

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Wimpy Kid in the Classroom

I had the pleasure of meeting teachers Brian Smith and Katie Hartman when they were chosen to be Scholastic Reading Club Teacher Advisors in 2013. The Reading Club staff keeps in touch with them via e-mail—and through their presence on social media! When eavesdropping on a Twitter conversation, I learned that they were planning some reading activities with their students for Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, and I had to learn more. I reached out to Brian and Katie and am excited to share their “wimpy” project with you! 

 

Thanks for sharing your experiences as teachers—and readers—with us! We’d love to hear about how you met and how you keep your literary friendship afloat. 

Katie: Brian and I immediately started discussing great books when we met as Scholastic Teacher Advisors several years ago. Unfortunately, we live in different states (Pennsylvania and North Carolina) and knew there wouldn’t be many chances to catch up at our local bookstore to swap titles! But once you find a fellow children’s book nerd, you don’t want the sharing to end, so we got creative. Instead of catching up in person to talk about what we’re reading, we hold our book chat conversations via Twitter! We select a book, plan out how quickly we’d like to read it, and live tweet as we read. It’s been a great way for me to talk about what I’m thinking with a fellow reader from afar. We also receive occasional feedback from other readers who decide to chime in!

Brian: As Katie mentioned, we took to Twitter (I am @dad2ella and she is @HartmansRoomGr4) to share thoughts about all sorts of books with each other and anyone else who wants to join the conversation. Any reader who tags us in their tweets is welcome. We tweet about picture books (The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend was a fave) and chapter books (the cliffhangers in the Spirit Animals series were very tweet-worthy!)—anything that strikes us! I’m so thankful we met when technology had advanced enough to let us easily keep in touch.  

Are you the same kind of readers? Is there anything about your own reading habits that you try to share with (or hide from) your students? 

Brian: Want to know a secret? I don’t love reading! I can’t believe I just typed that. I love books, and I love getting caught up in the action, drama, comedy, or romance of a great book. I love where they can take me and how I experience so many emotions with each turn of a page, but I don’t love the act of reading. When I’m not connected to a story, reading can be very hard for me. That’s why it has become a passion of mine to get kids connected with the right books at the right time. I am thankful for the teachers who found the right books for me. I even started a third grade All Boys’ Book Club as part of my endless pursuit to connect kids with books, and luckily Katie was right there to collaborate with me. 

Katie: One of the many reasons reading is so powerful is because of its connecting pull. Two completely different individuals can read the same book and immediately share a common experience. This connection can transcend distance and time.

If you have read the same book that I have, we now have a shared experience. We know the same characters, settings, events, ideas. And while our thoughts and interpretations of those events and ideas may differ, we have the common ground to start a discussion. This is what makes reading amazing. This is how books have the potential to unite readers.

How did you manage to take your own friendship and love of reading and make it a shared cross-state event?

Katie: Brian and I came to look forward to our tweeted book chats so much that we decided we wanted to find a way to bring the same experience to our student readers. In addition to his role as a kindergarten teacher, a new endeavor for Brian this year was hosting a monthly boys’ book club, while I continued to teach in a fourth grade classroom. We hoped to find a way to connect our readers with others outside of their school, provide them with an authentic audience for their work, and get them talking about their reading.

How did you land on doing a special project with Diary of a Wimpy Kid? 

Brian: When we heard the release date of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul announced, we knew the stars were aligning. I needed guiding questions for my book club discussion, and Katie’s fourth graders were the perfect choice to write them!

Katie: We knew the release of a new Wimpy Kid book is always an exciting time and would be a big motivator. In my classroom, I briefly explained the idea to my students and asked who would be interested in participating. Hands shot into the air! Once it was released, multiple copies were being passed around by my readers—not only those in our classroom library, but the books they owned personally as well. Everyone was willing to share so that more people could read Greg’s newest escapades.

And how did you move beyond the internal discussion with your students? What were your next steps? Obviously you had some engaged readers, but were they open to the idea of sharing their experience with students they had never met?

Katie: Once the students who volunteered to participate had a chance to enjoy the book during their own independent reading time, they met with me to discuss it. We talked about our thinking, shared laughs over some of the best parts, and brainstormed some discussion questions for other readers. These students knew that the questions they were creating weren’t for their classmates, but were for the third grade boys in Brian’s book club. My students had the opportunity to think about what made a quality discussion question and what types of questions would get the best responses from others.

After we brainstormed our list, we tweeted all of our discussion questions to Brian so that he could share them with his readers. My students enjoyed the opportunity to take on the role of reading leader in this experience and connect with other learners in a different state.

Brian: After Katie and her students tweeted their questions to me, I collected them into a fantastic discussion-question guide. Because of the universal appeal of Greg Heffley and his family, both sets of students had built-in excitement for the new book. Our job as teachers was to take that excitement and make it academic. Through just a couple of well-thought-out, well-executed assignments, we feel like we hit a home run for our students! Katie’s class hit the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy by creating based on what they had read, and my students were the willing beneficiaries of their creativity. 

Brian, what happened after you compiled and shared the questions from Katie’s class? 

Brian: Our discussion based on those questions was so engaging and thought provoking that it ended up lasting longer than our planned hour! After the discussion, my All Boys’ Book Club then acted out different scenes from the book, dressed as stick figures, and shared our experiences with Katie’s class. We also wrote postcards (we used The Long Haul postcards that we got by pre-ordering the books from Scholastic Reading Club!) to Katie’s class, thanking them for their questions, and to share our favorite parts of the book.

Katie: A few weeks after Brian’s book club met, we were excited to discover a surprise in our mailbox one day. His boys had written out Wimpy Kid postcards to each of my students who participated, sharing their thoughts about the book and continuing the discussion.

Do you have any final thoughts on this experience? 

Katie: Participating in book discussions this way was a neat experience with an authentic audience for both groups of readers involved. Brian and I loved the idea so much that we hope to continue it with more books and even better, more involved plans in the future! 

Brian: This whole experience reminded me that when students create for a known purpose, they will amaze you every time! The boys in the book club wanted to share their experiences with everyone, and what better way than through comic-style storytelling? Enjoy!

 

 

Interested in joining our conversation and book chats? Follow us on Twitter at: @HartmansRoomGr4 and @Dad2Ella

 

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