A New Approach to “Teaching the Novel”

I am still reeling from #NCTE18! The conference was exactly what I needed to refuel my passion for teaching. In the spirit of transparency, before the conference, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through this year. The teacher burnout was REAL. All of the excitement from the beginning of the school year, the new ideas, the drive–gone. Disappeared. The Whole Class Novel Struggle was real and rapidly approaching, and to be honest, I just wanted to get through it. Going to the conference felt like my last shred of hope and boy, did it NOT disappoint!

Throughout the conference, I had the opportunity to confer with my colleagues, share with new acquaintances (who turned into friends), and hear from the icons like Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, and Cornelius Minor, who reassured me that I CAN do this–it is going to take a mindset shift.

Coming back to the classroom affirmed that the struggle I was having was due to forcing pasted image 0old habits and conventional ways of teaching on a group of students that would resist anything and everything I tried. In Houston, among the plethora of books I purchased was Kelly Gallagher and  Penny Kittle’s 180 Days.  I was inspired in their approaches and philosophies because they mirrored my own. In addition, the pressure to conform was lifted, and I finally felt compelled to exercise my professional and creative judgement.

The first thing I decided to transform is our novel unit. Following the strategies and “why” of 180 Days helped put it all in perspective. Here is my “plan” of action:

  • Booktalks – I am giving them daily and plan on having students take over. We are going to our school library every other week where our fabulous librarian will help with getting amazing titles into my students’ hands.
  • Time – Students will have class time to read. This is a big one because I like to control everything, so this will be a huge moment of release on my part. Wish me luck!
  • Reading Conferences – I have committed to 4 conferences for this grading cycle. Some will be informal, some will be based on a survey, but ultimately, we are going to TALK about what we are reading.
  • Quick Writes – I am giving students 5-10 minutes everyday to write.Then, we will TALK about what we are writing.
  • “Shared Reading Experience” – This is how I framed reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my students. I also mentioned that we would not (gasp!) read that book cover to cover. Rather, we will use it as a shared reading experience. In addition, their assessments will be based on our shared reading experience. I promised that I would not be assigning reading quizzes or other activities like that. Rather, our unit will focus on skills and discussion.

Most of my students seem open to it. I shared my vulnerability with them and let them know that this is something I would be willing to try. We have already had our first reading conference and I was surprised at how many students checked out books from our classroom and school libraries the first week! This is something I fully plan to continue beyond a simple “unit.” The biggest take away for me is that I KNOW this is what is best for students, and I am willing to advocate and try new approaches in order to foster a love of reading. #readandresist

What suggestions, feedback, comments do you have about the “novel unit”? I would love to hear other ways you are changing the way to teach novels in the classroom. 

Gena Mendoza teaches High School English in San Antonio, Texas. Her most salient identities include female, Chicana, feminist, mother, wife, educator, dog mom, and self-proclaimed advocate for social justice and equality. In between managing her career and grad school, she enjoys making paper flowers and spending quality time with her family. She invites you to connect with her on Twitter at @Mrs_Mendoza3

 

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