Tuesday, February 26, 2013

YCTNN (You Choose the Next Newbery) Project

Today I join my fellow bloggers in "serving up a slice" to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers. 

We completed our YCTNN (You Choose the Next Newbery) unit with what I thought was our culminating activity in January as we listened to the live feed of the award presentations.  It was fun knowing that the awards were being presented in downtown Seattle, a short fifteen minute drive from our school.  My teacher heart smiled when a few students showed up in the library at 8 a.m. even though school didn't start for another 25 minutes!

This project began when KCLS (King County Library System) selected six titles on their blog as possible contenders for the  2013 Newbery award.  I had submitted a grant earlier this fall to our schools foundation for the funds to purchase eight titles of each book for rotating book club groups. With fifty-nine students this year, I added two titles so that we would have a bit more choice and flexibility with our book groups.  I selected One for the Murphys by Linda Mulally Hunt and The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen.  I had read One for the Murphys, and I selected The False Prince on the recommendation of two favorite booksellers at our local bookstore, Island Books.

When the books arrived, a team of parent volunteers covered them for me with library book covers so they were ready for distribution to students the next day.  I previewed the books and students listed the titles in order of preference.  I promised they would get to read at least one of their two top choices during the next two and a half months.  I divided the books into two groups and set to work assigning book titles and organizing groups.  I let students select either a two or three week cycle for reading the titles.  We spent the first two cycles learning how to complete quality bookmarks (my term for the folded-in-half paper with prompts) that helped students keep track of golden lines, new words, author's style, and sketches, questions, and connections so that they come to book club prepared to discuss the book.  With the first round of books distributed, I went to work recruiting discussion leaders for each title.  This year I had several parents, a library aide, two librarians from KCLS, our principal, another teacher, a retired teacher friend, our school secretary, and my own daughter who led groups at some point between the middle of November and our final book clubs in January.  Most of the time I had enough discussion leaders so that I could float among the groups, listen in, and take photos.

When we completed all our book discussions, each student chose the book he or she felt should win the Newbery and defended the choice in a short paragraph.  This was our popular vote.  We posted the results from our popular vote on a bulletin board in the hall using snowflakes to represent votes for book titles.

My school was not selected by KCLS to participate in their culminating event to discuss the titles, but I did manage to take two willing students to this three hour Saturday event so that we could get ideas for how to organize our final discussions.  At this event, students rotated in groups as they discussed each title according to the criteria provided by the Newbery committee.  Each group was led by a librarian.  I left this event wondering how I could replicate this event for my students.

Two big questions that consumed my thinking over the next few days were how to help my students better understand the Newbery criteria and how to engage my students in a meaningful discussion without having eight adults available to lead a discussion for each book title.  As I struggled with helping my students understand the Newbery criteria, I discovered a Powerpoint on Slideshare and then through an internet connection, I obtained a handout that provided questions to guide the student's thinking for each criteria.  (See Feb. 5 post regarding this handout.)  Students entered each title and the Newbery criteria in their writer's readers notebook.  They then provided a scale of 1 to 5 for each of the criteria.  I decided the best way to approach rating the books was to discuss one criteria daily and then have students rank each book they read according to the specific criteria discussed on that day.  After ranking the book, students wrote a one to two sentence explanation of their rating.  After ranking all the titles they read, students looked at these numbers to determine which title should win the Newbery according to the criteria.  We discussed how this title might be different from their personal favorite because they were using the Newbery criteria as the lens through which to judge the book.  Each student wrote a paragraph explaining his or her choice for the book that should win the Newbery Award using the Newbery criteria as supporting details.

I liked the way that students rotated at the KCLS event to discuss separate titles according to the Newbery criteria.   I knew that it would be impossible for me to have eight different adults available on the same day for two different blocks of students.  After several days of brainstorming and talking with colleagues who helped guide my thinking, I decided to have fishbowl discussions on each book title.  A select group of eight to ten students would sit in the center of the room to discuss the title according to the criteria while the rest of the students listened in with a sheet to record of their thinking.  It was hard for those outside the fishbowl to remain silent, so we provided an opportunity for observers to talk at the end of each fishbowl discussion.  Every student participated in at least two discussions, and at least one of those discussions was one of their top one or two titles.  I had two student jobs during these discussions - timekeeper (hold up cards at two minute intervals to help me keep the discussion moving along) and photographer (take photos of the fishbowl participants and the audience).

Our last activity (before gathering on Monday morning to hear the Youth Media Awards) occurred that afternoon when the children's librarian from the public library arrived for a short discussion about the Newbery award, distributed the paper ballots (which allowed me to track student choices), and provided guidance for voting online at the KCLS blog. We added the results from our Newbery vote to the bulletin board display in the hall.

And then we gathered on Monday morning to hear the Youth Media Awards announced.  My students were jubilant when The One and Only Ivan (their 2nd choice) was announced as this year's Newbery Award winner.  They were disappointed that Wonder (their top choice) did not receive any recognition. Two students who had selected Bomb and Three Times Lucky to win the Newbery Award were elated when those titles were selected as Newbery Honor books.  And hopefully they will always remember the year they engaged in an authentic project to read, discuss, and evaluate possible titles for the Newbery Award.


  1. This was so authentic. I loved that you used the Newbery criteria. I loved Ivan, but I was a touch sad about Wonder too. Thanks for sharing this awesome project, Ramona. xo

  2. Awesome project to share! I could feel the excitement that was generated by the students in your telling! I'm sure they will always remember this when they are older and reflect back on their literacy journey!

  3. Wow, awesome project! I have enjoyed reading about it. I remember the excitement the Awards were announced. This is an example of teaching and learning at its best!

  4. We did a Newbery group, too, Ramona, but not nearly as extensive as yours. What a joyful celebration of this award & the books. Last year was an amazing year for book contenders, wasn't it? Thanks so much for the detail. I will share with our librarian & I'm sure we'll incorporate some of your ideas next year! (It was a shock that Wonder received no recognition, wasn't it?) Thanks for all!

  5. What an amazing project! Did your students go into Newberry withdrawal once it was over? How cool that you were able to fund this with a grant. As they read now, do they wonder if this book could be a contender for next year? Even if this is a Texas sheet cake, I loved reading every word.

  6. Wow, what a fun, engaging, and authentic project! Thanks so much for sharing how you made it all come together!