Tag Archives: reading

#Disrupting Texts in our Senior English Classes

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Stories that mirror the lives of our students are an important part of our reading lives.

Last year, due to a colleague’s illness, I ended up teaching a section of English 10 part way through the year. It had been years since I had taught English 10 and years since I had taught the main novel that our Grade 10 students study – To Kill A Mockingbird. While I hadn’t taught To Kill A Mockingbird in some time, it had been the subject of much of my professional development reading lately as there is a shift happening towards questioning some of the traditional texts we teach in North American and whether they are the best texts to explore issues of race and other complex issues. In particular, I had been exploring the concept of disrupting the texts we traditionally study in high school as outlined in this excellent series by Kate Stolzfus in ASCD’s Education Update. When we look at disrupting the classic, largely Eurocentric texts traditionally taught in schools across the country, we start to explore how the classic cannon does not necessarily reflect the experiences of the students in our class. Children’s literature scholar Dr. Rudine Simmons first explored the idea that children need mirrors, windows, and sliding doors in the stories they encounter. While windows and sliding doors allow children to look into or enter into the world of people different than themselves, mirrors in literature – where children can see themselves reflected in what they read are equally as important. While Rudine Simmons was talking about children’s literature, this is just as important in the literature we study with our young adults in our high school classes. When we look to disrupt the texts we teach in class, we look for opportunities to provide “mirrors” for all of the students represented in our class, as well as “windows and sliding doors” into the lives of others.

Because I was starting the class midyear, I was not in a position where I could change the books for the course, so I would have to teach To Kill A Mockingbird, but I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with teaching it in some of the more traditional ways I have seen it handled. Like any teacher faced with a new class with only a short time to prepare, I headed to the internet to see what inspiration I could find. What I found has become a valuable resource not just for my Grade 10 English class, but also for my other classes – #Disrupttexts. The #Disrupttexts movement is a grassroots movement started by teachers to disrupt the traditional cannon and to provide resources to do so. The movement was initially a Twitter movement and if you search #Disrupttexts on Twitter, you will find many valuable resources. As well, there is a website where you will find suggestions, lessons and unit plans that suggest alternate titles to the traditional cannon, or texts to teach in conjunction with them in order to bring in other perspectives.

While it may not always be possible or necessary to replace the traditional canon in our English classrooms, by shifting the way we looking at these texts and by “disrupting” our thoughts on the literature we share with our students, we help our students access the powerful experience of seeing themselves reflected in the literature they read.

 

Pam McMartin in English Department Head, Senior English Teacher, and Middle Years and Senior Teacher Librarian at an independent school in Tsawwassen, BC, Canada. When she is not disrupting texts in her classes and her school library, she is spending her time reading reviews and building her to-be-read list from all of the exciting new books from diverse authors coming out. You can follow her on Twitter @psmcmartin. 

3TT Talks Gifts: What books will you give this season?

If you know me, you know I live by lists. I make them. I collect them. Sometimes I even stick to them. I raised seven children, you know. I had to keep track of who needed to go here, there, and everywhere and who needed what and what and what just to survive and thrive in our robust and rowdy family. Christmas shopping, often on a bone of a budget, gave me hives.

Gift-giving has never been my strong suit. Perhaps my practicality, and my history of stretching dimes into dollars, gets in the way of thoughtfulness. (Not even kidding, my kids got socks and underwear wrapped in cute paper. To their credit, they never complained–at least not to me.) I know it is possible to be both practical and thoughtful, but I am still working on that balance.

So what does any of that have to do with a blog about teaching readers and writers? Not a lot — except, I asked my fellow writers to help me craft a list for literacy teachers. Maybe you’ll find something to gift yourself, a colleague, a friend, or a perfect stranger. (I like the idea of gift-wrapping a book and giving it to one of the Salvation Army bell-ringing volunteers and saying, “This is for you.”)

Part 1 of this literacy teachers’ list is below. I’ll post about professional books, and favorite writer’s notebooks, pens, and other clever things for literacy lovers over the next few days.

BOOKS. What are the top titles students love in your classroom library right now? (Remember, we work with a range of readers from middle grades to AP Lit. There’s old and new, non-fiction, YA, and just some really good recommendations here, in no particular order, that would make great gifts for any reader or want-to-be reader or you-want-them-to-be a reader in your life. )

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Long Way Down Track Series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, Lu) by Jason Reynolds
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Hate You Give  by Angie Thomas
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Graphic novels (Ghosts, Smile, Babysitters… by Raina Telgemeier
Love that Dog/Hate that Cat/Moo by Sharon Creech
The 57 Bus:  A True Story of Two Teens and a Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Just Mercy  by Bryan Stevenson & the version adapted for YA
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood & the graphic novel version by Nan A. Talise
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Ghost Boys By Jewell Parker Rhodes
The CrossoverBooked & Rebound by Kwame Alexander
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
The Greatest Stories Never Told:  100 Tales from History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy by Rick Beyer

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir & the whole trilogy
Looking for AlaskaTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King by Reymundo Sanchez
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

NOTE: Get this book free with a donation to Book Love Foundation

We Should Hang Out Sometime:  Embarrassingly, a True Story & Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
Because I was a Girl:  Trues Stories for Girls of All Ages by Melissa de la Cruz

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Martian by Andy Weir
1984 by George Orwell
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women by Charleyboy (editor)
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

For more book-gifting ideas, check out the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2018; 15 Life-Changing Middle-grade Books; and here’s the School Library Journal list of best children and YA audiobooks of 2018.

It’s a Good Day to Talk about Talk

Many of us are on edge. You may feel it, too.

I woke today thinking about something I heard in the first professional development session I attended as a new teacher:  We read literature to learn what it means to be human. It provokes a seemingly simple question, and one that’s prompted rich discussion with my students:  What does it mean to be human?

Maybe we don’t talk about our shared humanity enough. Maybe we should do that a little more.

For those of us who embrace choice reading, we often refer to the words of Rudine Sims Bishop:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

Let’s think about this line:  “When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror.” Shared humanity.

Last year at NCTE, Lisa, Jessica, and I had the chance to sit down and chat with Cornelius Minor. We were three white women educators working to listen and learn and do more to advocate for equity and social justice in our classrooms. We knew Cornelius could help. He did.

“We start by focusing on what we have in common. Our humanity,” Mr. Minor told us. Then he highlighted the difference between diversity and inclusivity:  Diversity is everyone sitting at the table. Inclusivity is everyone sharing equal power at the table.

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Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

So what does this mean for me as a teacher, a facilitator of professional development, a writer, a mother, and a grandmother — someone who desperately cares about not just my family, but others’ families, about my country and the interactions we have with one another, about the future and all that entails?

What does it mean for you?

Sure, getting students reading and talking about books is a great starting place. But we also have to open spaces for talk. Cultivating risk-rich safe spaces where readers and writers can share their ideas, struggles, and successes about topics and issues that matter to them is vital to cultivating a civil society. I’ve long thought that our classrooms represent a microcosm of our society. If we can facilitate critical conversations where students respect and truly listen to one another, maybe we have a chance at changing conversations on the street or in courtrooms or press conferences or Congress.

Idealistic? Sure. But that’s the nature of hope.

In her article “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” Bishop concludes with these lines:

Those of us who are children’s literature enthusiasts tend to be somewhat idealistic, believing that some book, some story, some poem can speak to each individual child, and that if we have the time and resources, we can find that book and help to change that child’s life, if only for a brief time, and only for a tiny bit. One the other hand, we are realistic enough to know that literature, no matter how powerful, has its limits. It won’t take the homeless off our streets; it won’t feed the starving of the world; it won’t stop people from attacking each other because of our racial differences; it won’t stamp out the scourge of drugs. It could, however, help us to understand each other better by helping to change our attitudes towards difference. When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what makes us all human.

We come to understand each other better, yes, through wide reading, curating libraries with diverse, vibrant, engaging titles by authors of diverse heritage and backgrounds. Reading more matters. Couple Bishop’s thoughts with these by Lois Bridges:

Reading engagement is nothing short of miraculous—engaged readers spend 500% more time reading than do their peers who aren’t turned on by books—and all those extra hours inside books they love gives them a leg up in everything that leads to a happy, productive life:  deep conceptual understanding about a wide range of topics, expanded vocabulary, strategic reading ability, critical literacy skills, and engagement with the world that’s more likely to make them dynamic citizens drawn into full civic participation.

Yes, wide voluminous reading matters. A lot.

But so does talk.

I believe it’s through talking about their books, discussing their similarities and differences, their characters, conflicts, and resolutions; talking about their writing, helping each other see angles they might not have seen, validating ideas and challenging others — all in safe spaces of shared respect — that we fast track students’ abilities to engage with each other and with their world. Our world.

So on this election day, I would ask you, dear reader, one favor:  Between now and the next election, can we all do a little more to open spaces in our instruction to facilitate more meaningful discussions? Let’s amplify our shared humanity.

 

Amy Rasmussen has no middle name, but if she did, it would be “Idealist”. She believes everyone is a child of God and should be loved as such. She’s excited to attend NCTE this month and hopes you will attend her session at 4:15 on Saturday as this blog team presents “Accomplice”-ing Great Things: An Action Plan for Equity, Inclusivity, and Allied Partnerships in ELA Classrooms. 

A Book for Women, Young and Old and In-between

I am always on the look out for books that will hook my readers and mentor texts that will inspire my writers.

But when I saw the title The Radical Element, 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes & Other

My Radical Granddaughters

It’s never too early to give girls hope.

Dauntless Girls, I thought of my own three daughters, my daughter-in-law, and my two granddaughters. (Well, not so much the debutantes, but definitely the daredevils and the dauntless.)

We need books where our girls see themselves –where they feel empowered to take on the world. In a brochure I got from @Candlewick, it states:

To respect yourself, to love yourself, should not have to be a radical decision. And yet it remains as challenging for an American girl to make today today as it was in 1927 on the steps of the Supreme Court. It’s a decision that must be faced when you’re balancing on the tightrope of neurodivergence, finding your way as a second-generation immigrant, or facing down American racism even while loving America. And it’s the only decision when you’ve weighed society’s expectations and found them wanting.

So today, I write to celebrate the book birthday of The Radical Element edited by Jessica Spotswood.

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Jessica writes:

. . . Merriam-Webster’s definitions of radical include “very different from the usual or traditional” and “excellent, cool.” I like to think our heroines in these twelve short stories are both. Our radical girls are first- and second- generation immigrants. They are Mormon and Jewish, queer and questioning, wheelchair users and neurodivergent, Iranian- American and Latina and Black and biracial. They are funny and awkward and jealous and brave. They are spies and scholars and sitcom writers, printers’ apprentices and poker players, rockers and high-wire walkers. They are mundane and they are magical.

. . .

It has been my privilege to work with these eleven tremendously talented authors, some of whom are exploring pieces of their identities in fiction for the first time. I hope that in some small way The Radical Element can help forge greater empathy and a spirit of curiosity and inclusiveness. That, in reading about our radical girls, readers might begin to question why voices like these are so often missing from traditional history. They have always existed. Why have they been erased? How can we help boost these voices today?

I have only read a few of these stories so far, but they are a wonderful blend of adventure and courage.

Here’s what three of the 12 authors have to say about their stories:

From Dhonielle Clayton, “When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough”:

1943: Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

What encouraged you to write about this moment in history?

 I wanted to write the untold stories of hidden black communities like the one in Martha’s Vineyard. I’m very fascinated with black communities that, against all odds and in the face of white terrorism, succeeded and built their own prosperous havens. Also, World War II America is glamorized in popular white American culture, however, we learn little about what non-white people were doing during this time period. 

 In researching this topic, did you uncover any unexpected facts or stories?

I didn’t find as much as I wanted because historians focused on white communities and the war effort, leaving communities of color nearly erased. I had to rely on living family members that experienced this time period and a few primary sources detailing what life was like for black nurses in the 1940s. 

 How do you feel like you would fare during the same time period?

The one thing I trust is that black communities have been and will always be resourceful. Accustomed to being under siege, we have developed a system of support. I think I would’ve fared just fine. 

From Sara Farizan, “Take Me with U”:

1984: Boston, Massachusetts

What encouraged you to write about this moment in history?

I’ve always been fascinated with the 1980’s. Even with all its faults, it is the period in time that stands out for me most in the 20th century. The music, the entertainment, the politics, the fear and suffering from the AIDS virus, the clothes, and the international events that people forget about like the Iran/Iraq war.

In researching this topic, did you uncover any unexpected facts or stories?

It was hard to look back on footage from news broadcasts about the Iran/Iraq war. I felt embarrassed that it seemed this abstract thing for me when really my grandparents came to live with my family in the States during the year of 1987 to be on the safe side. I was very young, and didn’t think about why they had a year-long visit, but looking back, I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for them. Fun not so heavy fact: Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Purple Rain came out in the summer of ’84. And so did I!

How do you feel like you would fare during the same time period?

I think I would know all the pop culture references and my hair is already big and beautiful so that would work out great. My Pac-Man and Tetris game is strong, so I’d impress everyone at the arcade. However, I’m not down with shoulder pads and I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to come out of the closet back then.

From Mackenzi Lee, “You’re a Stranger Here”

1844: Nauvoo, Illinois

What encouraged you to write about this moment in history?

My story is set in the 1840s in Illinois and is about the Mormon exodus to Utah. I was raised Mormon, and these stories of the early days of the Church and the persecution they suffered were very common place. It took me a while to realize that, outside of my community, no one else knew these stories that were such a part of my cultural identity. I wanted to write about Mormons because its such a part of my history, and my identity, but also because, when I was a kid, there were no stories about Mormons. There are still no stories about Mormons–it’s a religious minority that has been largely left out in our current conversations about diversifying our narratives.

In researching this topic, did you uncover any unexpected facts or stories?

Ack I wish I had a good answer here! But honestly not really–I already knew so much of what I wrote about because I’d gone to a Mormon church throughout my youth.

How do you feel like you would fare during the same time period?

Badly! The Mormons went through so much for their faith, and as someone who has had a lot of grief as a result of the religion of her youth, I don’t know if I could have handled having a faith crisis AND being forced from my home multiple times because of that faith. Also cholera and heat stroke and all that handcart pulling nonsense is just. too. much. I didn’t survive the Oregon Trail computer game–no way I’d survive an actual trek.

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Amy Rasmussen teaches readers and writers at a large suburban high school in North TX. She loves to read and share all things books with her students. In regards to this post, Amy says, “It’s Spring Break for me, and I’ve been idle. Kinda. Three of my grandkids arrived at the spur of the moment, so I’ll use that as an excuse for posting late today.” Follow Amy @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk.

 

A Reading Conference with Tom Romano

I am fortunate to be on friendly-emailing terms with the great Tom Romano, from whom I’ve learned much about good writing instruction, multigenre, and student voice.

So when I received an email from him the other day, asking for book recommendations, I laughed aloud. My most excellent writing mentor, asking me what to read next?

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I admit, I balked a little at first. This was like having Tiger Woods ask you what golf club to try next. But then, I fell back on my tried-and-true reading conference strategies, which I’ve used countless times over the years with reluctant and prolific readers alike.

As with any student, I had much of what I needed in order to give a good recommendation between the request itself and my background knowledge of Romano. When students need help finding something to read, we’ll often meet at the bookshelf. As they stare blankly at the wall of books, one of the first questions I ask is:

“What are you in the mood to read?”

Often, students can give me a feeling–something fun, lighthearted, serious, or challenging–or a genre–romance, nonfiction, adventure. It’s even better when they can give me specific titles that relate to their preferences. I usually glean these titles by asking:

“What’s the last book you read that you loved?”

In his request, Romano gave me all the information I needed–he wanted something literary, something like The Nightingale (which I’d read after Lisa recommended it to me), Atonement, or All the Light We Cannot See. He’d also answered another question I usually ask readers:

“What’s your reading plan?”

Knowing where a student will be reading this book–at work in short spurts, at home in long stretches, or on a crowded bus on the way to an athletic event–impacts my recommendation as well. Here, Romano told me he’d be reading for long, uninterrupted stretches of time in airports, so I knew I could suggest something all-consuming.

So, I stuck with my usual formula:

I recommended three titles.

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Exit West is a title I’ve heard a great deal about and would love to read, but haven’t gotten to yet; The Secret History is an amazing hidden gem by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Donna Tartt that I read about 15 years ago; and A Man Called Ove is a new viral title that made me sob hard over Girl Scout cookies and coffee as I finished reading it. My three recommendations usually consist of something old, something new, and something I haven’t read yet.

I wrapped up my pitch as I always do, with a clincher:

A promise of what the book will do for the reader.

A week went by, and last night at 11 pm, I received another email from Romano:

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“Loved Ove.”

A successful end to a successful reading conference, if you ask me…but of course, like any other conversation about books, I couldn’t let it end there. I just had to throw in one more recommendation, which I always do for my students when they return a book:

“If you liked that book, you should try ______________.”

This quick exchange of emails, like so many off-the-cuff conversations we have with students, was packed full of powerful data about a reader’s interests and abilities; a teacher’s knowledge of texts and titles, and most importantly, the transaction between the two parties–a shared endeavor to find a just-right book at just the right time.

All our words are imbued with purpose and power when we are discussing literacy. Reading conferences don’t need to be formal, sit-down conversations all the time. They have just as much weight when they’re held standing at the bookshelf, passing in the hallway, or from afar via email. This reading conference with Tom Romano reminds me: never take any of our talk about books for granted.


Do you have a what-to-read conference “formula?” What other titles might you recommend to Tom and me? Please share in the comments!

Shana Karnes is eagerly awaiting the end of flu season so she can go back to work without worrying about her two tiny daughters getting sick…again. When her family is actually healthy, she teaches preservice educators at West Virginia University, goes for long runs while listening to even longer audiobooks, and tweets about reading, writing, and school at @litreader.

I Have a Newborn…and So Much Time to Read YA!

Karnes November 2017 (20 of 23)

Jane Elizabeth arrived on November 13! (See how much she sleeps?!

Ahhh, the second kid. The kid where you can take advantage of just how much a newborn sleeps, just how much free time your maternity leave affords you, and just how tired you can be. Way too tired to create anything sensible (sorry, NaNoWriMo), but definitely not too tired to consume something interesting.

Enter young adult literature.

(Well, re-enter, actually.)

I left the high school classroom about a year and a half ago, and since then I’ve only read a few YA novels. My purpose for reading YA used to be to inform my students about the latest and greatest in high-interest lit, but now it’s shifted. I’m as distracted as any perpetually tired, academically overwhelmed, hormonally imbalanced teenager, so now I’m the perfect audience for all the best YA.

Here are a few of my recent late-night, early-morning, even-while-in-the-hospital YA reads that I think you and your students will love, too!

30653853The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli – I so loved this book. I enjoyed everything about it asI read it in chunks at 2 am while feeding the baby. I loved the narrator’s voice, the hilarity of the supporting characters (whose ethnic, sexual, and gender “diversity” weren’t the main points of the story, but just a normal part of the fabric of the narrative, which I really appreciated), and the writing itself. If you or your students enjoyed the twins in Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, the frank discussion of body image in Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, or the awkwardness of Colin in John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, definitely give this one a try.

51nDUibFLjL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – I chose this one strictly based on cover appeal–because it’s really a gorgeous cover–and ended up reading it throughout labor, finishing the last 20 pages a few hours after Jane was born. I was sucked in immediately by the plight of Alex, who’s seventeen and schizophrenic and never quite sure what’s real or made up in her everyday life. Every character, object, or experience had my skepticism as I read, and my wariness was heightened as I grew more and more attached to each development, worrying that it’d turn out to be fake. There are twists and turns worthy of Gone Girl in this book, but ultimately, it’s a fantastic YA read that’s more coming-of-age than suspense or mystery genre.

John_Green_Turtles_All_The_Way_Down_Book_CoverTurtles All the Way Down by John Green – Have you read this book yet? If you haven’t, is it at least pretty high on your TBR list? If it isn’t, have you been living under a rock!? John Green’s newest book–and his first release since The Fault in Our Stars–did not disappoint me. I purposely avoided reading anything about the book before I got my hands on it, and I was glad that I hadn’t been spoiled by spoilers. Its plot is driven by a typically slightly unbelievable Green-esque set of characters, circumstances, and adventures, but I’m always willing to suspend my disbelief for the likes of John Green, so I was undeterred. I quickly empathized with narrator Aza, who struggles with OCD, and appreciated Green’s sensitive exploration of mental health in the teen landscape.

61d6DhRCBSL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Jackie told me about this book years ago, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since–and it was worth the wait. A true YA classic, it blends a dystopian reality with the sinister machinations of a true supervillain (in this case, an entire corporation) and unlikely heroes and plot twists throughout. If you like The Matrix, the 80s, video games, or any of the above, you’ll like this book. It’s a great piece of fiction, and I appreciated Cline’s restraint in not turning it into a trilogy or series. I loved it as a stand-alone book full of everything I like in a page-turner.

32930819The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn – This isn’t YA, but it’ll definitely be of interest to any of my fellow Jane Austen lovers out there (and if you are one, then you’ll notice my aptly-named newborn daughter, above). In the not-too-distant future, time travel is a reality and true Austen fangirl Dr. Rachel Katzman has been selected to visit 1815 and Jane herself. Her mission is to retrieve a lost Austen manuscript, diagnose the mysterious illness that ended Jane’s life far too early, and try not to alter history too drastically along the way. I loved this book for its historical accuracy, its constant allusions to Jane’s works, and the depth of emotion I felt from every character.

And, because all good readers have a plan, here’s what’s next on my library holds list:

  • Refugee by Alan Gratz
  • Artemis by Andy Weir
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • What She Ate by Laura Shapiro

What do you recommend for my next high-interest read? Please comment with some titles that will keep me awake through late-night feedings, a teething toddler, and my exhausted 8:00 bedtime!

Shana Karnes is now mom to TWO beautiful baby girls–Ruth and Jane–wife to a very patient husband, and teacher of thoughtful preservice educators at West Virginia University. She’s enjoying new mom-of-two life and surviving it thanks to the twin distractions of reading her students’ work and reading YA lit. Find Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

Try It Tuesday: Book Pass

While writing about ways to hook readers a few weeks ago, I realized that while we’ve mentioned book passes several times on this blog, we’ve never actually written a post dedicated to how to do them.  So, here that post is!

Book passes are beautiful in their simplicity. Their purpose is to expose potential readers to a wide variety of books in just a few minutes. All you need are a number of books greater than or equal to your students, their writer’s notebooks, and the power of social capital.

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Victoria browses through Peter Johnston’s Choice Words, while Brianna tries to decide between a few choices herself.

When students enter the classroom the day of the book pass, I always have piles of books ready to go on their table groupings. They can’t help but pick them up right away (really, they can’t–sometimes it drives me nuts when they paw through materials we’re not ready to get to, but in this case, I LOVE watching them be drawn to a book), so the book’s contagion begins to spread immediately.

When we begin, I ask students to turn to their TBR pages in their notebooks. “Go ahead and grab a book that’s on the desk in front of you,” I invite, and wham, books are in the hands of readers. “Spend about one minute with this book–look at the front cover, the back cover, the inside flaps, the first page. Decide if you think it might be a good fit for you.” With my preservice teachers of all content areas, I ask them how they might use this book, or excerpts from it, in their future teaching.

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Habbiba gets excited about Will in the World, and nerds out with Alexis.

I set my timer on my phone for 60 seconds as kids flip through pages. Of course, book love is contagious, so some kids share with others what they find–the power of social capital is at work once again here.

When the timer dings, I ask kids to pass their book to the left. “But first,” I remind them, “write down that title on your TBR list if you think it’s something you might want to read.”

Now the students have new books in their hands, made more powerful if they’ve already watched their neighbor write that title down. I love to watch, after multiple passes, when one title gets written down by nearly everyone, and the students who’ve yet to get that book in their hands begin to practically salivate.

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Nick and Ryan thumb through The Double Helix and Moneyball, respectively

The book pass can go on for as many passes as you have time for–enough for every kid to see every title, or just five minutes’ worth, if you prefer. I do this activity multiple times at the beginning of the year, and then again sprinkled throughout the year when I get lots of new books in. It’s a wonderful way to expose students to several titles in a day as an alternative to the traditional booktalk. It’s also a great way to shake up the typical routine in the classroom with a hands-on activity that gets kids excited about books.

I often conduct book passes in this open-ended way–“see if this book is a good fit for you”–but sometimes I do them as a way to expose students to a “new” genre in particular (novels in verse, or graphic novels); a way to introduce the theme of a unit (by finding books all about that theme); or to introduce a reading challenge (read an award winner, or a book of nonfiction). Just passing books around and getting them in the hands of readers does wonders to grow students’ universes of what’s possible when we read.

How might you use a book pass in your classroom? Please share in the comments!

Confession: I’m dating a “non-reader”

return and talkThis summer, we’d like to return and talk about some of our most useful, engaging, or popular posts.  Today’s post, written by Jackie in 2014, reminds us that many of our students can easily come to love reading.  It’s up to us to help reshape their reading identities.

And, we offer a special congratulations to Jackie and Eric–whose wedding is tomorrow!

Please return to this topic and talk with us in the comments–how do you help kids identify as readers?


“I don’t like to read.”

These words slipped off the tongue of my date as he sat across from me digging into a burger. I could’ve excused myself to the bathroom then slipped out the restaurant’s back door. Instead, I sat, paralyzed by his open admission.

Does he not realize I teach English? My quaint dreams of cozy dates at used book shops and Sunday mornings curled around novels dissipated. I couldn’t possibly share my life with a non-reader. I spent months fostering a love for literature in my students. I handpicked books for my teens, stocked my shelves with the latest releases, and inhaled literature in my free time. Dating a non-reader was like sleeping with the enemy.

The date was dead.

Or so I thought.

Two years later, we are still together, and Eric has proven to be one of my most valuable assets in understanding self-identified non-readers. Just as I had pigeon-holed Eric into an archetype of resistant male readers, he had categorized me into the antiquated outline of his high school English teachers—the ones who made him hate reading in the first place.

Eric’s teachers were staunch traditionalists. They assigned classics then tested, quizzed, and sucked any joy or personal exploration out of the books, leaving a pulpy mess of literary repulsion. Eric didn’t identify as a reader because his teachers had given him every reason to not identify as one: he struggled with literary analysis and didn’t enjoy fiction. Like many of my students, he skated through English relying on online cheat sheets to get around reading the required books.

This same resistance to identify as a reader plagues many students who step into my classroom. They have fixed perceptions of what a reader is or should be— a person who reads fast, favors classics and fiction, and enjoys literary analysis. Self-identified non-readers see no room in reading for personal growth, gratification, interest, exploration, and pleasure. Ultimately, they see no room for who they are as a person when they recognize that the only celebrated books within English classrooms are those that fit a set standard of literary merit.

Eric's "to read" shelf

Eric is drawn to informational books. Here are some of the books on his “to read” shelf.

Eric was a self-identified non-reader simply because he did not favor traditional literary classics that his teachers drilled in high school. Yet when I first met him, he voraciously read online articles. Gradually he found his niche in books that dealt with scientific theories and particle physics. Recently, Eric completed The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments by Jim Baggott, a 410 page book, and he is halfway through A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, which is 478 pages. Furthermore, he listens to audiobooks on his commute to and from work and our bookshelves are packed with volumes on his to-read list, including On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin and Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo.

If Eric is a “non-reader,” he is exactly the type of student I want in my classroom—the type who has a personal, vested interest in his or her reading and seeks to learn from the material. Gradually, I

Trevor's Reading

Trevor poses with his stack of books read throughout the year.

have come to find Eric’s reading patterns in my own students. Trevor who hated reading found his niche amongst non-fiction books like Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer while Ben, who was rarely interested in whole class reads, challenged himself with diverse genres ranging from science (Stiff by Mary Roach and The Double Helix by James D. Watson) to historical fiction (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak). These students need the time and space to not only figure out how to define themselves as readers but to also establish a sustainable reading pattern.

By definition, readers are individuals who “look at and understand the meaning of letters, words, symbols, etc.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Thus, as long as a student can read, they are readers—classics, fiction, and stereotypes aside. But as English teachers, we must not only show them that this is the case, but also we must help them to foster reading lives that reach beyond the classroom. A generation

of apathetic teen readers doesn’t have to lead to a generation of

Ben's reading

Ben with this stack of twelve books.

apathetic adult readers.

This past weekend while winding the back roads of a coastal Maine town, Eric and I spotted a library book sale. I would usually be the one to erratically swerve to the side of the road and park on a sidewalk if it meant gathering additional books for my classroom library, but this time, it was Eric. As I sorted through the stacks of books, I looked up to find Eric with a stack equal to my own. This was exactly the type of person I could spend my life with.

Book Talks & How To Do Them–#3TTWorkshop

 

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Amy booktalks during our visit to Franklin High School

Conversation Starter:  What’s a book talk and why do you do them?

Shana:  Booktalks are a structured way to fangirl about my favorite things in the world: books.  I do two booktalks per class, right after independent reading wraps up.  They’re a great way to transition from the relaxed reading mood of the classroom and move into the fast-paced work of critical reading and writing, but they’re also the number one change I’ve made to my teaching that has influenced how much I can get my kids reading.  Three years ago, I only did booktalks whenever the mood struck or whenever I got new books into my library, but now I do two a day, every day, no matter what–and it’s made an incredible difference.

Amy: You are an inspiration in consistency, Shana. I’ve done better at doing book talks this year than I have in the past. I try to do two a day as well — one non-fiction book and one fiction. I always seem to fall off the wagon at some point though. The demon, impending testing, pulls me to the dark side every year. I’m putting up a good fight this time around, and I have a plan to reinvigorate, not just my book talks, but the reading that’s happening in my room. Curiosity and intrigue: my goal for better book talks.

Is there a set protocol for a book talk — like length, reading a passage, etc?

Shana:  Just talking books is the biggest nonnegotiable for me.  While most days I do follow a protocol–one fiction, one nonfiction; 2-3 minutes per book; always share a passage, a brief plot teaser, and my own reading experience; try to mention a student who’s read the book–some days I just have to gush over a book that’s been recently returned, or a book I am reminded of during conference time, or some new items I’ve purchased.  Either way, I talk books every day, no matter what, which helps students become accustomed to exposure to new titles, adding books to their what-to-read lists, and hearing about trends in authors, genres, or topics.

Amy:  Remember at Penny Kittle’s Book Love class at UNH two years ago how she had everyone model a book talk? She set no guidelines other than modeling a few for us. After just a few turns, it became clear:  The best book talks are short, energetic, and introduce the book in some insightful or clever way. I try to do that.

When I read the books in my library, I look for passages for craft studies or beautiful sentences we can use as mentors. Sometimes I share those in book talks without doing the study — we just enjoy the language or listen to the voice of the narrator. I’ve started asking questions and trying to get my students to think about the topics the writers might address in the books. Just another way to get my readers to make a connection with writing.

The hardest books to book talk are the ones I haven’t read yet, but even those are doable when we show genuine excitement about the book. Why would I have a book in my library if I am not excited about students reading it? That’s a pretty easy sell in and of itself. It’s fun to get students to ask questions about the cover and to read the comments.

41drZBnWSzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_How do you decide which books to talk about within each unit?

Shana:  This is pretty easy for me since most of my units of instruction are themed.  For reading units themed around a topic, I find lots of books about that topic, or that contribute an alternate perspective to whatever central text we might be reading.  (Example:  While reading Siddhartha and thinking about coming of age and going on journeys, Outliers, Marcelo in the Real World, The Other Wes Moore, Paper Towns, and Their Eyes Were Watching God fit right into our unit.)  While in the  midst of a writing unit, I think about books that might serve as mentor texts in terms of topic or structure, or that are written by authors who serve as good mentors in general.  Other times, I have no rhyme or reason to my booktalks, because I simply MUST talk about a new book (like Dumplin’, which I just read and LOVED and had to booktalk randomly.)

Amy:  I structure my units more around genre than theme, so my book talks are more random than yours. Hey, maybe that’s the problem with my consistency!

My students and I talk a lot about aesthetic and efferent reading. I want them to understand the importance of making connections with the books they choose to read, and lately, I’ve seen that there is a real disconnect. Just because students choose books does not mean they are making personal connections to them. This is in part why so many of my students this year are having a hard time sticking with the books they choose. Because I know many are abandoning books so quickly, I’ve been working on getting students to talk a lot more about topics and how writers approach these topics. My hope is that my non-readers will find interest in learning about things, even if they are not interested in reading for the pleasure of it.

I’ve done several book talks this year around a topic; for example, depression, which is one of my 11th graders’ favorite topics to write about this year. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, Every Last Word, My Heart and Other Black Holes all flew out of my hands, and I had to get more copies.

Do you ever have students conduct book talks?

Shana:  Very occasionally, I do, when it’s really authentic.  When a student finishes a book and just raves about it during a conference, I ask them to share that enthusiasm with the class.  Last quarter, I asked all students to read a challenge book and then complete their choice of follow-up activities with the book–one choice was a booktalk, and the students who shared about the titles they loved did spark some interest in their peers.  However, those booktalks didn’t go over as well as the ones that arose from sheer exhilaration, so I think my future goal will be to limit student booktalks to spontaneous ones only.

Amy:  Like you, I rarely have students conduct book talks — at least the way I do. I’ve tried, but you are right, without the spontaneous excitement about the book, the other students just do not respond the same as they do when I conduct the book talks.

However, I do have students talk about books with one another. Most of the time it’s pretty informal:  Talk to your table mates about what you are reading. Sometimes it’s a little more formal:  Speed dating with a book, which is one of our favorite ways to share books.

What are some other ways you talk about books with your students?

Shana:  Basically, I bombard them with talk about books all the time.  When I see current or former students in the halls, I ask them what they’re reading.  When they come to visit me, I urge them to leave the room with a new book.  I make lots of segues in conversations from all topics to all books (mostly because this is just what I do in real life…ask anyone who knows me).  I also share with students all the time what I’m reading, and why they might like a given book.

Amy:  We are so much alike! I love to have former students borrow books, and I talk about books with every person who will listen — and some who don’t. I also try to get students to engage with me on Twitter, using the hashtag #FridayReads to share what they are reading each week. A few students set up accounts and we follow each other on Goodreads. I love those kids! I’ve also started a favorite quotes wall, and I’ve asked students to pull significant lines that lead to theme and/or beautiful sentences that show author’s craft. Getting students to pay attention as they read, noticing how writers use language to create meaning, leads to significant improvements in their own writing. Without fail, it’s my best readers who are also my best writers. If only more students would get that.

Do you have topic ideas you would like us to discuss? Please leave your requests here.

Holden

Today I asked my colleague, Elaine Miskinis, if I could share her writing with the TTT community.  Elaine teaches Sophomore English, Junior English, and AP Language and Composition.  I am fortunate to pass my freshmen along to her while receiving her juniors in return. She perfectly sums up the struggles of first semester, the hope that comes with second, and the transformative power of literature. ~Jackie

Rye_catcherThe plan?  Spend the hour and a half between the end of the school day and kiddo pick up time entering my students’ midterm grades, doing some lesson planning for “Hamlet” and cleaning and organizing my room in preparation for third quarter.

The reality?  A student who is failing with a single digit average came to finish his midterm.  He mentioned, in passing, that reading Catcher in the Rye made him realize some things about himself.   Any conversation that opens with “The Catcher in the Rye made me realize…” is never going to be a short conversation.  It’s just the nature of that novel and the power it holds.

Long story short, he’s experienced some significant trauma and, like Holden, nobody has really been there to help him to process it.  He said, “You know how Holden is really smart, but he’s failing because he just can’t get out of his own head and move on from what he’s experienced?  I think that’s like me.”  Over an hour later we came up with a plan to get him someone to talk.  We also scrapped any plans of turning him into a model student this year and replaced them with the goal of helping him so that he, in his words, “Can stop pretending to be happy and actually start to feel it”.

So, now my classroom is a fire hazard of papers and books, my planning for Monday stands at “Wing It” and I have two bags of papers that have come home with me that still need to be logged into my grade book.  But, this was one of those days that will likely stand out when I think about why I teach. And, more specifically why I value teaching literature.  For every kid who whines and “Spark Notes” and skims, there might be one kid in the back of the room who looks like he’s disengaged and disconnected but who, in reality is so much in his own head at that moment, and possibly even so far in the head of a character that he’s lost in ways we can’t begin to see.

It’s easy to forget the power of novels, especially the ones we teach year after year and it’s easier still to forget the power we hold as teachers, especially when we’re consumed with midterms and grades and planning, and frankly, all of the things that really, in the end don’t amount to a whole lot.  Today was an important reminder to me of what it’s really about and why what we do really does matter.  I don’t know that we’ll be able to help this kid in any substantial way, although I certainly hope we will, but I do know that he felt comfortable broaching the topic with me this afternoon because he had Holden Caulfield there to lean on.  It makes me wonder how often these small, important moments get lost as we focus on assessments and core competencies and all of the minutia of our lives as teachers.  Sometimes it just has to be about more than that, and about more than reading check quizzes and essays.  Sometimes it has to be about letting our kids hang out with characters for a while to learn that they’re not alone.

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