There were about two weeks of school when we came back that I wondered if I was doing something wrong. It seemed like I had WAY too much time on my hands, and I wasn’t quite sure if I was just forgetting about responsibilities, and therefore shirking them in some way, or if I actually was managing my time better.
(Scoffs) Of course, it wasn’t the latter. I simply FORGOT that I was in grad school. This past week, as grad school classes started up again, I thought, “Ohhhh yeahhhh, that’s what was missing.”
I have questioned my life choices many times throughout this graduate student plus full-time (and then some) teacher season. However, it is increasingly amazing to me the fact that teaching is more a study in behavioral psychology than it really is in any content. The questions we ask ourselves are never just, What should I teach next? Rather, they are loaded questions like, What can I teach next that will engage students, help them reach their potential, and provide a learning experience that will last beyond my classroom?
For this reason, my current class–focusing on social and emotional components of learning–is rocking my world. The ore I read, the more I realize that it is my job not only to encourage healthy social and emotional characteristics in individual students, but also with each other.
So as my students are gain their reading strides this year, I’m pushing them to talk to each other about it more than ever before. Here are some way I’m promoting community in my classroom, even among different class periods.
The Reader Hall of Fame: This was my colleague’s idea, so I cannot take credit at all. She started taking pictures of her students with their first finished book, and then she adds a small strip of paper with each new title they finish. It looks AWESOME, and it really allows a constant brag-on-the-students feel to the classroom. Students love coming in and seeing the new developments of their friends, the titles they’re reading, and the PAGE COUNT. Yes. They compare page counts like nobody’s business.
Book Clubs: This semester I am doing my first round of book clubs with my AP group. Last semester, the students begged for book clubs. They wanted to be able to read with their friends, which I think is a totally worthy desire that I do not mind milking for all it’s worth. My goal is to come up with discussion questions along with the students that will promote discussion about life and the world, as well as education (our thematic topic for this unit).
Whole Class Reading Challenge: Daniel Pink is haunting me in my sleep for this one–re: extrinsic motivation is not sustainable. I know. However, when it comes to high school seniors, you sometimes have to pull out all the stops. I follow Brian Kelley on Twitter (@briank) and he so graciously shared this reading challenge bingo with me. I told my seniors each time they complete seven squares as a class–each square completed by a new student–they could bring to class. When we complete three cycles, they can have a movie day. I’m a sucker. Feel free to troll me on Twitter.
Red Thread Notebooks, Technology Style: This semester, my colleague and I are trying to get our seniors communicating across class periods, and even between our two classes. In order to do this, we are going to take Shana’s Red Thread Notebooks, and take them to FlipGrid and possible Canvas discussion boards. I hope to have different boards for big topics like LOVE, DEATH, FAITH, FREEDOM, on FlipGrid and allow time in class for students to respond to those boards and each other, referencing their current reading.
#bookstagram: I love this hashtag on Instagram, and it provides a great way to connect to students in their own world. I want to show a few photos from the hashtag to students in support of my book talks, and then offer an opportunity for students to #bookstagram their own book, or search the hashtag for their next read.
“Why I Read” Wall: I’m a sentimental freak when it comes to second semester seniors. They roll their eyes constantly as I say, “Do you REMEMBER when you said you would never read?! Look at you now!” Last week, tears streamed down my face–single ones, thank you–as I told them I believed in them and I’m so glad they’re here. Beyond the sentimentality simply being my personality, it is also a teaching tactic that requires teenagers to reflect. This is a skill I never thought would be so difficult to teach, but it is! I want students to think of reasons why they read, and create a little notecard to hang in the hallway. We could even steal their pictures from the Reader Hall of Fame and put them out there. This would provide an amazing message for all the students who come into my classroom’s corner of the world that reading is more than just assignment.
And that’s the dream right there, folks.
So how do you promote community across classrooms through reading?
Jessica Paxson teaches English IV, AP Lang, and Creative Writing in Arlington, TX. She runs on coffee and exaggeration, a deadly combination at 7 in the morning. Her students frequently describe her as “an annoyingly cheerful person who thinks all her students can change the world.” Yep, pretty much.