G/T Teens and Reading — Persuading Awesome

Guest Post by Tess Mueggenborg

This transition has not been easy for me.  It’s taken me several years to get comfortable with the idea of giving students more choice – even free choice – in what they read. Part of it is that I’m a bit of a ‘control freak.’  Part of it is that, as I freely admit, I’m a classical canon sort of gal – and I want to share my passion for classical literature.  But I know that my job is to help my students, not to spread my own personal gospel of literature.  So I’m changing – and the results have been surprisingly, rewardingly positive.

I started this transition last fall, allowing my GT sophomores to choose their books (from a long list … though I also allowed them to bring in other books and convince me that their book was worth reading), and giving them time every week to blog about their reading.  I’ll admit: not every student finished their book.  But not a single student complained – not once – that they didn’t like their book or that I was ‘making’ them read something boring.  So that was a nice change of pace.  And, truly, most students DID read.  And they ALL blogged.  Even if they didn’t read, they still wrote.  And every English teacher knows that just getting them to start writing can be a challenge – even with GT students.

So here are a few excerpts from their blogs, in response to this prompt: ‘Persuade me, Professor Mueggenborg, whether or not I should read your novel.’  Some are funny, some are poignant, some obviously leave much to be desired.  I have not edited the responses, so all mistakes are the students’ own.  It’s a work in progress.

Dillon read Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan

If you have not yet had the absolute pleasure of reading this book you should stop what you are doing right now and go get a copy of it; if you have had that pleasure you should do it anyways. I’ll tell you what I am going to do. I will tell you something so irresistible that you will have to read this novel.There is a dance routine with an ox and ghost children. I refuse to tell you the page it is on so that you must read until you find it. At this point if you haven’t rushed to a library of bookstore to at least find that in the book there is nothing more I can say except that this work of art shows genius in contemporary literature the likes of which I have never witnessed and I am truly grateful for having gotten the opportunity to experience it.


Freddie read Transatlantic by Colum McCann

If anyone else is considering reading this book, I strongly recommend it. I loved this book from start to end. I advise, however, not to get discouraged if the first three chapters seem completely incoherent (which they pretty much are). The imagery and similes such as “A chandelier of snot from his nose. The blood backing off his body, his fingers, his brain.” (pg. 31) help the reader imagine what the protagonist was seeing and feeling.


Janice read Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton

I absolutely suggest that anyone and everyone should read this book. The book is insightful, interesting, emotional, and thought-provoking. Throughout the entire time I was reading it, I was somehow able to connect to Chanda. Stratton did an amazing job. Honestly, I never thought I would be able to connect so deeply with a girl that has experienced practically the worst of the worst. Her parents both die, her sister died, she was raped, her best friend is a prostitute with AIDS, her neighbors all gossip about one another, and she was forced to leave school in order to make money for her family. All of these things are horrible and I’ve never experienced anything close to the troubles she goes through, yet I can still feel close and bonded with Chanda.


Andrea read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

I have seriously been waiting for this question for as long as I have had this novel. YES. 100% yes! I enjoyed it so much and you will too! Although, if you don’t want to get attached to characters, do not read this novel. If you don’t want to get your heart ripped out of you because of said characters, do not read this novel. If you don’t enjoy reading about death and medical things, do not read this novel. But please, what’s the fun in reading a book if none of those things happen?   


Alissa read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The best part I love about this novel is that it’s actually reality like these things happen in real life, it’s not just make believe. The things that happen in this novel happen to most people in the world and can relate to almost anyone. There are some very important lessons in this novel that led me to caring about my parents and my culture more.


Emilio read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

I believe you should read this novel if you are interested in looking up a bunch of Spanish words or phrases you may not know. This is also a great book for those people who like to try and cook random dishes just try them. You have to be pretty interested in learning about Mexican dishes, even I didn’t know about some.


Ellen read In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

I really enjoyed this book. I usually don’t say things like that (especially about a book) because I just don’t really like reading. Like if I were to finish a book, I would always end up telling myself, “what a waste of time”. But this time, it was actually different. When I finished reading this book, I loved it!  It helped me as a woman feel better about myself and it also shows us that if we were to have hope, things will get better in life.


Andrew read Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Before reading this book, please consider you mental state. If you have no hallucinations, sleep soundly through the night, and plan to keep yourself that way, do NOT read this book. You will likely lose your mind to the ravenous punctuation devouring demons that reside deep in these pages. They are evil creatures that will eat your quotation marks. Seriously. However, if you are already mad, are not fond of your sanity, or feel that you need something a bit different, it should be relatively safe to read this. I wouldn’t recommend it but it could be done. While this book does have an interesting approach to character development, a somewhat interesting plot, and a cool name, all of that, when calculating how much of your time this is worth, equates to the value of a dead gnat. For one reason. QUOTATION MARKS. I know, I know, I have already complained about this, but it really is that big of a deal to me. Every new paragraph I find myself rereading and checking to make sure that I am on dialogue (or not). Quotation marks serve a legitimate purpose in literature. They show dialogue, sarcasm, and well, as the name implies, quotes. They are NOT for decoration.


Matthew read And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

I never read and I personally can’t stand reading. The first time I picked up this book was because I finished all my work in one class and nothing else to do so I started it and from the very first paragraph I read I was hooked. This story broke my heart and then sewed it back together and gave it warmth and then did it all over again. The stories in this book are so heartfelt and they teach so much about the people and lifestyles of other cultures. I would tell anybody to read this book. In a way this book changed the way I felt about everything. It was crazy to think about what some families have to go through. The way that families in America value one another is ridiculous compared to those of the lower classes. I love how the ones that are in poverty and living in lower standards have very good family values. The way that they love and cherish and would do anything for each other is amazing. This book grabbed a hold of someone that cant stand reading and got him to read it and enjoy it which makes that book amazing because otherwise i wouldn’t have read it.

That last selection, from Matthew, is the one that sealed the deal for me on this whole “give them choice” concept.  Awesome.

photo credit Even Hahn


“Professor” Tess Mueggenborg teaches English (and anything else with which her students need help) at RL Turner High School.  Her academic passions lie in comparative language and literature.  The Professor lives in Dallas with her husband, Jeff. Tess’ on Twitter @profmueggenborg


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4 thoughts on “G/T Teens and Reading — Persuading Awesome

  1. Erika B. January 22, 2014 at 8:33 am Reply

    As Andrea was talking about CUTTING FOR STONE, I smiled at how clever she was in her persuasion; using “don’t” statements to lure the reader into curiosity. Andrew, reviewing BLOOD MERIDIAN, did an exceptional job of taking us through a “mental state” journey to provide us with intrigue…and so on and so on.

    Tess, your students are definitely not only enjoying these beautiful pieces of literature, but writing about them eloquently. Thanks for sharing…inspiring!


  2. Suzanne Gibbs January 21, 2014 at 7:53 pm Reply

    Great post! Love how you’re seeing the positive responses from former non-readers!! Sometimes I get discouraged because our fourth graders get to choose, but once they move on to middle- and high-school that choice is taken away. Often their love of reading and the characters that make the stories fades as well.


  3. amyrasmussen January 21, 2014 at 11:31 am Reply

    Hi, Katie, Amy here to answer your question. Tess uses blogs with her G/T sophomore class of about 30 students. It’s pretty easy to read one class set of blogs a week. I use blogs with all of my 145 students. It’s a little harder to read everything they post. If you set their blog addresses up in a reader like Feedly, (I used to use Google Reader), you can read all the most recent posts in one place. I did this for several years, and I left students’ feedback on sticky notes that I returned to them in class. I decided not to do that this year because I want to leave each student a comment on their posts. This takes much more time, so I randomize when I read. I tell students that I expect them to write each week, but I will not be reading them all. They take a chance of getting a zero if they do not write the week I decide to grade. I know this might seem harsh, but it is the only way I can keep up. Sometimes I read their posts two weeks in a row, and sometimes I go for longer. I do know that the more feedback I leave the more often kids write and the better their writing is. I’ve also started having students read and score each other’s posts. This is the direction I want to go. My students will internalize the rubric more, and their writing should improve even more, if they are having to evaluate the work of others — and they know their friends are reading their work. I just put my kids in writing groups of 4-5, and they will be responsible for reading and scoring and leaving comments on each other’s posts. I also think this might inspire my non-writers to start writing. I hope.

    You asked about requirements. Here is the link to my class blog where students see my expectations. I copied most of my questions for the reading blogs from Tess. These are the questions she has her students responding to in the examples in this post. http://rasmussena.edublogs.org/your-posting-expectations/

    Best wishes with all this!


  4. Katie Ann Prescott January 20, 2014 at 11:09 am Reply

    How do you manage reading all of their blog entries? I set up a blog for my students at the beginning of the year, but I’m just really nervous about being able to read all of their blogs.

    How do you do it? What are the requirements for your students to blog?


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