Reading Challenges for Growth, Connection, and Reflection

My students complete a reading ladder at the end of each quarter, during which they reflect on their reading from that nine weeks, write about the texts they read, and set goals for the following quarter.  When I read first quarter’s reading ladders, almost every student said one of their goals was to challenge themselves either with a book in a new genre or a more difficult length/writing style/topic.

So, I challenged them formally during second quarter to read a book outside their comfort zone, then write an essay that showed me that process.  I love Jak’s essay about his chosen challenge book–Cut by Patricia McCormick.  While this text is short and not full of especially difficult vocabulary, it challenged him because of its topic–self-harm and depression.  His essay is full of voice, text evidence, and text-to-self connections.  It’s a strong piece of writing that helped Jak reflect on his reading of this book, and is just one of many authentic alternatives to a traditional method of reading assessment.


“A Challenging Cut” by Jak McMillen

Ready, Tropics? 1, 2, 3! LET’S GET TROPI—actually, let’s get dark for a moment. Let’s talk about Patricia McCormick’s Cut, a challenging and rough look into the mind of a depressed teen named Callie. Cue synopsis mode! To get into this mindset, Callie cuts herself. Never too deep, never enough to die, but just enough to feel the pain. Because she cuts, she’s been placed in Sea Pines, a treatment facility where everyone has a problem in one way or another. The only problem with Callie here is that she doesn’t speak, and for the most part refuses to throughout the book. Okay, synopsis mode over.

Now, Karnes, I’m assuming you have grown tired of the banter and have asked, “Well, how does this challenge you?” I’ll answer that shortly. In my essay earlier typed this year Of Mice and Misery, I cited one particular moment of my life that still affects me to this day, that of which being my father’s unfortunate passing. Now, my shell opens up more through this essay to share some of the past that I hold back.

Throughout my schooling years, I’ve found myself growing more and more tired of everyday tasks, even so far as just waking up and dressing myself. I could even use yesterday as an example: I had already felt like nothing more than dust the night before, which carried over to the next day. After coming back from MTEC the feeling was still there and unexplained, just as Callie’s feelings through the first parts of Cut. For me this is a culmination of years upon years of dark and harrowing thoughts of self-harm, and unfortunately at some points, even thoughts of suicide. Over the years of therapy some of these thoughts are still here. Now… I know that you probably didn’t want, nor did you need, to read that information, but I had to be relatable somehow, right?

41jIgmsYB+LAfter breaking her silence to her therapist, in their time between pages 122-125, Callie exposes her scars and tells what she uses. At one point in this segment, she says “Guess I’ll never wear a strapless ball gown,” from which I related in my own thoughts as feeling like I would never be good enough. Callie’s thoughts—as well as my own, but not in the book of course—were at most unexplained until later in the text. Cut took a vast amount of effort to read, and for this I praise McCormick for putting the amount of effort she did into writing this title.

When I read this title, it hit very close to home, and still does. I guess that’s why it’s such a challenge for me to read. Also, for the love of all that is holy, please do not take this as a cry for help or a sob story. I’ve moved on mostly and do not need any more sympathy than I’ve already received. Do know that it is much appreciated though! In closing I would like to say something Callie said once: “I may not want to get rid of my scars. They tell a story.”

How do you encourage your students to make personal connections to their reading?


2 thoughts on “Reading Challenges for Growth, Connection, and Reflection

  1. Erika B. May 23, 2016 at 7:58 am Reply

    Jak, I love your candor combined with your book review full with connection. Today, I will be using this piece as a mentor text with my students here in Brooklyn. Thank you for being such a fearless writer, reader, and young man!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Friday, I shared Jak’s reading challenge essay about Patricia McCormick’s Cut.  Today I want to share how I framed the assignment that led […]


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