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A What-to-Read Conference: Books on Bullying

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.

411MJMpTseL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_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 MinutesYaqui 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.

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3 thoughts on “A What-to-Read Conference: Books on Bullying

  1. […] Teachers foster a love of reading not by focusing on the books but by focusing on the reader of those books and helping those students identify themselves as readers. If you need ideas on conferring, Amy and Jackie discussed conferring in this #3TTWorkshop post, Amy wrote about conferring in a crowded classroom here, and Shana wrote about a what to read conference here. […]

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  2. Amy September 3, 2015 at 6:49 pm Reply

    I love that this young man came in wanting a book about a specific topic. I’ve had several former students grace my door the past week and a half and ask if they can borrow books. We’ve talked a moment, and I’ve directed them to shelves and/or made suggestions; however, it’s a sign of the connection you’ve made with this student that he opened up about his interest. These are precious moments in my life that come a bit too infrequently. I’m working on being more like you.

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  3. Gary Anderson September 3, 2015 at 12:08 pm Reply

    Great insights here on so many things. The most important current I pick up on is that a former students knew that books (and you) could help him with whatever he’s working through.

    Can I add some suggestions to your excellent list of books involving bullying?
    Twerp by Mark Goldblatt
    Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman
    Letters to a Bullied Girl by by Olivia Gardner, Emily Buder, and Sarah Buder
    Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities by Alexandra Robbins contains a lot of bullying-related material, although bullying isn’t its primary focus.

    Liked by 2 people

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