Many of my reading conferences happen at the bookshelf, as students finish one book and begin the search for another. Here’s one example I just can’t stop thinking about.
Yesterday, a former student of mine came down to my room to borrow a book. This particular student didn’t start out as a reader, so I was really excited to see him seeking reading material independently a year later.
“Do you have Winger?” he asked me. We walked to the bookshelf and looked for it–all my copies were checked out.
“Why are you interested in Winger?” I asked him.
“Christina told me about it this summer,” he explained. I smiled–books were still going viral, beyond our classroom community and into the summer months.
“Well, they’re all checked out. What is it about that book that interested you?”
“The bullying,” he said, looking away. Bullying? I was surprised for a moment that this particular student was curious about bullying–he was a popular kid. He drove a cool car, had a boisterous and charismatic personality, and had a trail of lovesick girls whose eyes followed his every move. But then my surprise faded–all high school students, no matter how popular, confident, or smart they seem, struggle with their peers’ meanness.
I had to decide–what do I teach into here? This student as a reader, or as a vulnerable teen? I am no longer his teacher–so I don’t have to teach him as a reader, right?
Wrong. I chose to treat this as a reading conference…but in doing so, I knew I was giving this student the tools to deal with the issue of bullying.
I began to suggest alternate books about bullying, and I promised him that I’d set Winger aside for him when it was returned. He ended up leaving with Thirteen Reasons Why, but I also suggested Nineteen Minutes, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Truth About Alice, Speak, Wonder, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe, and By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead.
I knew that when that student finished Thirteen Reasons Why, he’d be back. I knew that I could guide him toward more books about this issue he was curious about, and that our future conferences could help him climb a reading ladder about bullying.
“Reading ladders take students from one level of reading to the next logical level…We can help them stretch as readers by showing them books that mirror what they already like but that…will challenge them more,” says Teri Lesesne in Reading Ladders. By continuing to guide this student toward more complex books about the same issue, not only would I be helping him to grow as a reader, I would be offering him more titles that could help shed more light on the difficult issue of bullying.
Penny Kittle is fond of saying “reading saves lives.” My own classroom library is emblazoned with the quote “We read to know that we are not alone.” This student was seeking salvation, solace, and information in books. He wanted to know that he wasn’t the only one feeling the way he felt, and he hoped to find a story that showed him a triumph over bullying was possible. That he sought this guidance in a library shows the power of teaching readers…not books.