Between the Lines by Michael Anthony and Joan F. Kaywell is frank teacher-to-teacher talk about how you can run a reading/writing workshop in a high school environment even when school administrators aren’t invested in “low-brow” reading. This book is the pep talk you need if you want to steer your classroom towards workshop but are tied in by constraints.
This book lays out the following:
- Ways to fit in independent reading and writing inside a highly scripted (and highly controlled) curriculum.
- How to talk to administrators about the value of the work.
- Example lessons and Common Core-aligned activities centered around independent reading.
- Suggestions for connecting independent reading to whole-class novels.
- Models of authentic student responses …. And examples of “phony, lookalike, and limited letters.”
- Examples of teacher prompting, and means of assessment.
- Specific advice for building up classroom libraries.
- Detailed appendices of awards for YA books to follow and popular YA books for classroom library collections. (This list is almost 20 pages long!)
The implications are clear: even if there are a lot of things in this book you can’t do, there is something here that you can incorporate. Can the movie on the day before vacation and do some booktalks or play some book trailers instead. Spend less time reviewing quizzes and more time sharing reading responses. Be proactive about book donations and procuring used books. Talk to administrators about repurposing homerooms and study halls as time for independent reading.
Since Anthony and Faywell’s attitudes are all about flexibility, I would add three considerations to any teacher using this book to implement new routines around independent reading and writing:
- Anthony and Faywell ask students to fill out reading logs and include a signature from an adult who is accountable for that reading. I feel iffy on logs to begin with, and even more iffy on asking teens who are old enough to drive for an adult “reference” for their reading progress. Adult signature gives an air of “I don’t trust you” and “You are not yet fully responsible for your own growth.”
- Anthony and Faywell’s reading accountability is based on peer-to-peer correspondence and peer-to-teacher writing. Casual correspondence is lovely, especially if you do not have time to confer with readers. However if writing were the only way I was holding readers accountable to independent reading, I would think about opening up the reading response beyond just I think/I wonder/I notice approaches to new genres and styles. If you are already committed to teaching impartial literary analysis and other “old school” writing modes, why not open it up when it comes to the fun stuff? Why not invite the reader to become creative and revise the ending or to be critical and write a review? Why not retell part of the story from another character’s point of view? Why not allow for students to journal about reading and their feelings towards reading? Why not write a comic?
- I would have liked to have seen more attention to graphic novels and magazines in this book, as these texts include valuable reading experience and are closer to the brain candy that teens are likeliest to reach for once they leave our classrooms.
Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York. Her best reading experiences as a kid happened without adult knowledge or supervision. Follow her on twitter at @HMX_MSE