Everywhere I look, I see books.
Open in the hands of students.
Shared at the hands of teachers.
I’m dreaming about books. Like the pursuit of the one that got away, I am chasing after unopened books in my sleep. Waking in a state of minor panic – When WILL I have time to read all of these books? I need a prep period just to read. I need an extra hour in the day. I need a sabbatical.
In the days since TTT came to share their wisdom and enthusiasm with the English Department at Franklin High School, literary excitement is wafting through our hallways and it’s all about books, books, and more books.
Students are buzzing about books.
As I walked through the commons a few days ago, I saw one of my AP Language students, Maddie, reading during her free block. I smiled and walked on. Then, I stopped, turned around, and went back to talk with her.
It was the best move of my day.
Sitting on the table next to Maddie was a copy of A Monster Calls (Since I sobbed over this book and poured myself into sharing it with students in a book talk a few weeks back, I’ve acquired six copies for my classroom and not seen one of those copies in days. Kids are handing them off in the hallway. Meeting for coffee to discuss. Making their parents read it. It’s beautiful) and in her hands The Girl on the Train. I asked her how it was going. “Ugh! Mrs. Dennis! I can’t read fast enough. I need to meet my reading goal and finish this book so I can start A Monster Calls.”
I almost hugged her.
I hugged her.
Maybe a second longer than was necessary, but I think we had a moment.
Only a few weeks earlier, before I had recommitted to book talks every day and conferring with kids about their independent reading, we had talked in class about how independent reading was going. Maddie had shared that while she likes to read, she wasn’t making time for it. She had been enthused earlier in the year, when getting time to read in class was something new and different, but hadn’t kept up with the expectation to read 2 hours per week.
I was reminded that Penny Kittle says teachers sharing their passion for books is contagious. In this area, I needed to do better.
While I was giving time to read, sharing lists of books to choose from, and piling books on the shelves, I had let my own passion for texts slip away into the haze of curriculum redesign, semester exams, and lesson planning. In essence, I was asking students to make reading matter without me. Not cool.
So, I grabbed a copy of Stiff, by Mary Roach and got reading.
Of course, I couldn’t put it down. Of course, I wanted to tell my kids all about it. So, I shared my passion in a book talk, we ended up chatting about the use of humor in nonfiction, and my students were reminded that we are a community that makes time for what matters.
And our commitment to that as teachers needs to be visible and constant if we are to have any hope in keeping kids enthusiastically discussing what they are reading and reaching for more.
My colleagues are buzzing about books.
I’ve been wonderfully lucky to work with brilliant and passionate English teachers for each of the thirteen years I’ve been in the classroom. In the past two years, I’ve even been lucky enough to be their department leader and do my best in recent weeks to facilitate our move toward workshop.
While we all share the very traditional love of To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, and The Great Gatsby, our passion for reading runs so much deeper. In workshop, it’s our responsibility (and pleasure!) to get kids reading all manner of texts. Not just glancing in the direction of a book, but digesting it.
In short, we know that to get a majority of our students excited about reading, their teachers need to be readers.
Tickled to share a passage, can’t wait to see what you think too, ask a million questions, highlight in multiple colors, adorkable readers. The classics have a role in this, but so do countless other styles, genres, and soon-to-be classics.
Our district has blessed us with a huge surge in classroom library materials in preparation for our shift to workshop instruction. This puts dozens of books in the hands of teachers who are now chatting about Patrick Ness in the hallway between classes, feverishly searching for texts that are suddenly in high demand (Anyone have a copy of Columbine? They are ALL checked out! How about The Nightingale? I’ve got a wait list. With six names on it. For a book), and frequenting Thriftbooks.com to compare how much money they have saved to add even more titles to their libraries.
When in doubt, promote. We enlisted the help of some art students and had a poster made to show how super cool it is to read. A nicer group of people, you will never meet, but this poster says read, or else.
The students think it’s a riot…and have asked on more than one occasion which books we are reading in the picture.
So, as the wind ushers in both spring and a journey with workshop, let the books come raining down as well. The more I see, the more I want to read. And the more I want to read, the more excited I get to prove to kids that we can all be readers.
How do you keep the beautiful buzz that surrounds books going in your classroom? Please share your ideas in the comments.