“Oh, one of your students is reading Alice in Wonderland?! I love that. Are they captivated by it? I wrote my entire master’s thesis on that piece.”
Last year, a colleague of mine was through the roof to hear about some of the children’s classics that my students were engaging in: E.B. White’s pieces, Peter Pan, The Secret Garden, The Tao of Pooh, Alice in Wonderland – which holds a very special place in her heart. But, for some reason students across the board have been guided away from these treasures. Why are we steering them away from the simplicity of tapping into their inner nostalgia, re-entering times in their lives where there was quiet innocence and a simplicity that innately dissipates as we mature?
Charlotte’s Web was just as powerful for me as a thirty-something adult as it was as a seven-year-old little girl. The latter was an opportunity to finish a chapter book full with robust (animal) characters and an opportunity to connect with Fern, the moralist. The former was a rich experience as I explored the theme of love, relationships, sacrifice, and an understanding of death (as I had recently lost my grandmother).
One of the important elements of the Readers Writers Workshop model is the idea of roller coaster reading. As Penny Kittle adequately puts it; adults read books on all different levels based on interest – students deserve the same.
I couldn’t agree more.
Think back to a time you dedicated your reading to a piece that was difficult – for you – for whatever reasons affiliated with that experience. Often times, we decide to ‘take it easy’ once we’ve conquered a book of that caliber. We’ll play with levels and genres and graphic novels and page numbers…and any other factors that play into our decision making. But, we typically veer from the intensity.
Until we’re ready to try again. And, we typically are ready at some point because we experienced the pride that comes with such a challenge. It just may not be our next book…or the one after that… But, we will find ourselves back there because it’s important to do so. Students will too.
And while there is the push for lexile reading, and all of the other ways to monitor student reading, we must let students read what their souls ache for. Whether it be luxuriating in a time of childhood innocence or challenging their vocabulary with a much more difficult piece. When we provide space for students to explore (and yes, children’s books included) students find the roller coaster that suits them – a bit of scare and intrigue balanced with comfort and adventure.
A wonderful way to provide students the opportunity to monitor such reading is through the creation of a Reading Ladder. (Scroll down to Q1 and Q3 to find information on how to create ladders and see examples.) Simply, by reading various books on differing levels, students have the opportunity to review their learning, progress, fluency, and stamina…all the while having choice.
This year, I intend to watch our I’ll Always Be A Kid shelf grow as more and more students find themselves drawn to some of the classics from their childhood. A handful of students love this shelf because they reminisce about reading (or having that book read to them) while others are exploring children’s literature for the first time. Our adolescent parents are intrigued as they scope for titles that they want to bring home to read to their own little ones – because passing on the gift of literacy is priceless. Regardless of the rationale, students end up falling in love with the magic.
What hesitations or fears surface when thinking about high school students reading children’s literature?