Hot Reads Survey: Genesis of the Collaboration

The four collaborators on this project give voice to their reflections…

Jennifer Aston, Instructional Coach, K-8 (@jen_aston)

We are still kind of puzzled by how this project all got started.

We think it started with a conversation between two teachers that led to a Twitter conversation, between four of us, which then transformed into a private group conversation, which then transferred to conversation and comments within a Google Doc & Survey.

In fact, I have only met Ryan and Sabrina, the two teachers involved in the project once in passing!

What we ended up creating together was an online survey for students in Grade 7 across Thames Valley.  We wanted to explore what their “Hot Reads” were and to gather information about book selection and their reading habits.

Please take a moment to discover our project and the interesting results for yourself here.


Since the survey, I’ve been wondering about what I can do with this information in my role as an Instructional Coach.

To start, I’ve visited a couple of classes with the data and had some amazing conversations (and debates) with students (and teachers) about book selection.  For example, on a walk through Chapters – I noticed that the titles in our top 15 “Hot Reads” are proudly on display.  I provoked a class: “Does Chapters influence you or do you influence Chapters?”.  Another question you could ask could be: “how many of the titles are also movies?”. That might be interesting. In one class, they did not do the survey, but wanted to after our talk so they could compare their results to everyone else’s. In another class, I shared that since getting the results, I had read “The Maze Runner” and that I didn’t love it.  A big conversation about female characters (that in my opinion are lacking in that book) ensued.

Since the project, we’ve been allocated some funds to purchase books for the schools that participated in the project. So, of course I’ve asked students to help inform us. What was not on the list that should have been?

I’ve also gleaned from the students and Instructional Coaches how we can tweak questions and what we can improve next time.  Our survey isn’t perfect. But regardless, this data has stayed with me. I know it will stay with me when talking to teachers in Intermediate grades about book selection.  I hope it will stay with you too.

Ryan Matthews, Grade 6, JP Robarts (@tvdsbmatthews)

Prior to this year I had taught for 6 years in the Intermediate division. Over that time I had worked hard to collect a variety of books that I hoped would inspire a love of reading among my students. Equipped with a list similar to,, I would raid small bookstores all over London looking to add new titles to my classroom library. By the end of last year I felt I had finally built something that could meet the needs of a variety of readers in my classroom. Then the reality of our job hit, I was moving to a Grade 6 position.

At first I didn’t think that there would be much difference. It was only one Grade level, it wouldn’t be that much of a change…WRONG! Very quickly and with some help from Annette, I soon realized that most books I had worked so hard accumulating were now too much for my students current reading level. It was back to the drawing board…

At first I was a little discouraged. All that hard work, sifting through endless copies of titles just to find that one book to cross off the list was to be put on hold for at least a year. Also there was the daunting reality that I had to start the process all over again for a new audience. This is exactly why I feel a survey like this is a powerful tool for educators. What better source to ask for reading materials than the students themselves? As a new teacher to a new Grade, I would simply need to consult the results of this survey from the past year to have a starting point for which titles I would need to be in my classroom for the Fall.

Not surprisingly, almost all titles in the top 15 (from this year’s) survey are books from the past three years or so. When reflecting on the titles I filled my classroom library with I would estimate that I was 70% older titles v. 30% newer titles. The results leave me wondering if I should be purposefully loading the shelves with current titles in September, with the hopes that this will ignite a love for reading sooner in my students. I could then slowly introduce some older titles as the year progresses, hopefully capitalizing on the peaked interest in reading brought on by the newer titles from earlier on in the year.

It is my hope that a survey like this can evolve into a purposeful annual tool for educators in the Thames Valley. I would like to see students from Grade 3-7 complete a similar reading interests survey every April. With the data from these surveys, it is my hope that we can provide useful and authentic reading information to assist educators in getting their reading programs off to a strong start. I would also like to see the surveys build a larger sample size. The more students we reach, the more authentic the data becomes.

Sabrina Tyrer, Grade 7, JP Robarts (@SabrinaTyrer)

One of the best things I have done for my reading program is participate in the Global Read Aloud. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out at Not only did this widen my reading lens and read books I might not normally have introduced into my classroom but it expanded the audience of class discussions we would have in our classroom. So many incredible things came out of collaboration in the Global Read Aloud. Here are just a few highlighted:

  • Connection: We connected with an amazing class from California – creating connections with other students and teachers around the book “One For the Murphys” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
  • Excitement: Students were excited to talk about their reading both online through Edmodo and google hangouts because of the excitement and novelty of connecting with another class. Their thoughts and reflections on the book were more detailed and thought-provoking as they had a larger audience.
  • Collaboration: This benefited me as a teacher as I collaborated with another teacher who was liked-minded and opened my eyes to new and exciting ways of supplementing my reading program.
  • Purpose: The GRA created a sense of purpose. My class was not only reading a great book but other classes around the world were participating and reading the same book, adding another dimension to our reading program.

With all of these things in mind, and wanting to continue to spread the love of reading, Annette, Jen, Ryan and I created the Hot Reads Survey for 2015. My ultimate goal of this survey was to create an online reading community like the Global Read Aloud where classrooms can connect throughout the board – reading the same book, at the same time! The hope is that others will experience the amazing benefits that I did in my language program. We are still in the early stages of making this happen but are excited about the numerous benefits of hosting a Thames Valley Read Aloud and a digital place to share our love of reading. Stay tuned for more details to come.

Annette Gilbert, Literacy Learning Coordinator (@annettecann)

Perhaps one of the biggest driving forces in my role has been how to engage students in reading.  Much of the fuel for that pursuit comes from Steven Layne’s Igniting a Passion for Reading (@StevenLayne).  In short, Layne urges us to read what students are reading, shareigniting_a_passion our reading lives, and get to know our students so well that we can recommend books that they will love to read with this phrase, “I thought of you.”  Just one simple but profound strategy he practices is the Hot Read – the namesake of our survey.  You choose a book that you are reading that is at your students’ reading level and interest, and display it as you’re reading it.  Drawing attention to what you’re reading generates questions, excitement and a line up for who wants to read that book text.  Teachers’ interests hold a lot of weight!

Which is why one of the surprising reflections about the data we collected was the apparent minor role that the classroom teacher played in recommending books for students.  Most respondents said that in fact no one recommended their choices.  I found this surprising as I recall being closely involved in talking to my students about text.  In fact, I’m still asking kids what they’re reading when I run into them in halls or even out in public!  But I love to read.

I know we face time constraints and sometimes we just don’t know where to start.  That’s where the Hot Read Survey list comes in.  Imagine the depth of conversation you could have with your students if you started reading just one title. While you may not be able to read every book they’re reading, as you start to build your bank of titles, common trends in YA, in intermediate, in junior novels will start to emerge.  This builds your background knowledge around themes, and your social currency with your students. As you consider new ways to build the culture of reading in your classroom in the fall, launch your year by sharing your reading life with a Hot Read.

So grab your beach bag and a couple of titles!

How Cycling Changes the World: A Text Set

Originally published on Literacy Matters

blog bike picWhen the warm weather finally arrives we all revel in the sweet taste of just burnt bbq sauce, the heady scent of lilac bushes in bloom, and the warmth of sunshine on freckled faces. Maybe it’s my Dutch blood, but the harbinger of spring for me is cycling! Having just got back from a quick Sunday 25 km circuit, I’m inspired to share a text set of books about bikes. Text sets bring together a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts that have a topic or theme in common to support building background knowledge and to immerse our kids in great text. Now, my text set is not just about bikes; I’ve chosen stories of how bikes are changing lives around the world. There are narratives around overcoming challenges, images of innovation, and news from villagers improving their lives.

As both we and our students are looking forward to the summer holidays, what better way to celebrate the season than with great books that will entertain but also inspire them?


Emmanuel’s Dream, written by Lauria Anne Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls (great recommendation Jane Baird!), tells the true story of a boy who is born with only one strong leg. In shame, his father leaves. Emmanuel faces not only prejudice but poverty as a result. Despite Ghana being a country where most kids with disabilities can’t go to school, Emmanuel is determined to hop over 3 km to school back and forth daily. His mother’s determination pushes him to independence. In response to just one more negative assumption about his disability, Emmanuel commits to making a difference for others with disabilities. His belief that ‘being disabled does not mean being unable’ fuels his dream and he rides all over his country, over 600 km in 10 days. Emmanuel’s story speaks to the big ideas of persistence in overcoming challenges and believing in yourself. And his trek made an impact. Ghana has since passed a law for disabled persons and Emmanuel has been privileged to carry the Olympic torch!

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle, written by Jude Isabella and illustrated by Simeone Shin, is a Citizenkid publication, a collection of stories by KidsCanPress that sets out to inspire kids to become more globally aware and globally active. This story traces the journey of a bicycle. First purchased with savings by a North American boy for pure enjoyment, the bike travels to Burkino Faso where it enables a girl, Aliseta, and her grandmother to transport their meager harvest to market to make a little more money. The final chapter in this bike’s trek transforms it into an ambulance that serves the needs of a medical clinic. Although there is a fair amount of text ( I wouldn’t read it at one sitting), kids will enjoy tracing the adventure and impact just one bicycle has on so many lives. Photos from Burkino Faso are supplied at the back of the book, along with an accompanying list of organizations that collect bikes to supply West Africa with bikes. Perhaps your students will want to discover more, such as, a Toronto-based organization that has seen coverage by CTV news.

Pedal it! How Bicycles are Changing the World, written by Michelle Mulder, is just one in a series from Orca Footprints. Every book in this series is a must-have particularly for junior classrooms, however, it grabbed the attention of my husband this afternoon owing to its format (lots of pics) and purpose (looking at issues from multiple perspectives). While it does trace the genesis of the bicycle, the most compelling reasons to read are the images from all over the world of the myriad uses of the simple bicycle. You will be challenged to consider the powerful environmental impact we can have when we choose to ride our bikes. Kids will marvel at playing soccer on a bike: cycleball! Or a bicycle bus for 9 preschoolers in Amsterdam. Grade 6 teachers will find the connections to science and ‘pedaling for power’ a sage reminder of how the global village meets the demand for energy when we take it for granted. In fact, check out this Globe and Mail article about a family pedaling to charge led lights and soon cell phones: “We realized that there are intrinsic links between child poverty and energy poverty.” (Lamps shine light on a new kind of aid).

Certainly, students will readily connect with the stories of Emmanuel and Aliseta, but more importantly they will learn anew the fascinating uses for that two-wheeler leaning up against their house. There’s even a photograph of a mobile library in Pedal It! …bringing books on bikes to kids. That’s my next job!

Happy reading and riding!