Awards Season

Gentle reader, as you already know from reading my humble blog, my 7th grade students have been hard at work learning about book awards and creating their own award. As I’ve mentioned previously, I love this book award idea because it gets them to analyze and synthesize information gathered from outside sources, it gives them research practice, it connects to their independent reading, and it has them analyze independent reading books as we did for a whole class novel. Furthermore, I hope it gets them thinking about what puts the good in “This is a good book.”

This week the classes tasks were to create a list of criteria, come up with a name for their award, come up with a nomination process, and begin to nominate books.

Looking at the list, I was a bit unsure how I was going to navigate the tasks let alone guide them through this process. I felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew. Then I thought about my dissertation writing (which sometimes feels the same way), and I stepped back, took a good long look at the list, thought about what I wanted from my students, and then broke each task down into manageable steps. As the Winter Warlock advised Kris Kringle in the Rankin and Bass special, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, “You just put one foot in front of the other/ and soon you’ll be walking across the floor.” And thus we began.

The first step was to have the students look at their data sheets and figure out what the awards had in common. After giving them a chance to compare awards, we started to brainstorm our list of criteria. I made it really clear that this was a brainstorming session. We were not debating, judging, or clarifying; we were just gathering all of our ideas. Both of my seventh grade classes came up with similar lists, which surprised me. When I heard familiar sounding criteria, I smiled because I knew they were trying to use information they learned from their research.

Once the ideas were exhausted, we started to evaluate the list. Some of the criteria needed clarification, and the person who suggested that criterion got to clarify. We debated the benefits of the particular criterion. I had one person speak for the criterion, and one person speak for the dissenting opinion because if you’ve ever spent time with 7th graders, you know that they could argue one point for multiple class periods. We voted on the criterion and then moved to the next item on the list.

After about 20 minutes, we had what appeared to be a thoughtful list of criteria, so we moved on to the nomination process. The students in both classes were clear that each person nominate one book. Honestly, at this point, I was shocked by the level of participation they expected from each other. Then I thought about it. This is the same thing I would expect from them. Have they internalized my expectations? Students decided to group the books and sign up for groups so that they would read a smaller number of books instead of the full number nominated. One class is grouping the books by genre, and the other by the length of the books. Both classes wanted to have nominations in next week so they have spring break to start reading.

Who are these kids?

Students who want to read over break? What? What! Wow!

At this point in the process, not only did we put one foot in front of the other, but we had moved across the floor. I was able to sit back and listen to students hash out how this award process was going to work. I was moderating and guiding, but they were taking the lead. As I sit here, decompressing after an emotionally exhausting week, I can smile because I am so proud of how far my seventh graders have come and how mature they are becoming.

The next step was naming the award. The students stared dumbfounded at me. So I told them to think about a name. They would submit names next class, and then we would vote.  As kids left class, they were sharing all kinds of crazy name ideas.

When they entered the next class, they had their names ready to go. Again, I stared at 20+ slips of paper with names on it and was unsure as to what to do. So I took a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other, and started grouping names into like categories. We had three to four categories with anywhere from three to six award names in each category. We voted in heats. I put the award names on the board, kids put their head down so as not to be swayed by peers, and we voted. In the end, both classes came up with award names that suit them. Students will also be creating the medal for the award.

And nominations have started pouring in.

And so the newest book awards are….

The Spectacular Sevie Award
Novels considered must:
• Appeal to young adolescents/middle schoolers
• Be accessible to all cultures and genders
• Be a work of fiction
• Be an excellent piece of literature (well-developed plot, well-developed characters, interpretation of theme, well-written, descriptive)
• Be easy to follow

The Ms. Schmidt’s B3 Class Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Excellent Writing (MSB3CAOAIFEW)
Books considered must:
• Appeal to boys and girls
• Have literacy excellence, which may include but is not limited to setting, plot, design, style, characters, theme, format, organization, accuracy, story, and voice, AND be a book we like because it made us want to keep reading (in other words not like Roll of Thunder).
• Have originality, which may include but is not limited to originality of characters, ideas, concepts, plot

Nominations for both awards are due in next week. So until next time …. See YA!

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