I have a student whom I just love (well, a lot of them, actually, but I’m going to focus on just the one today). I have taught her for three years. I teach in a small school, and sometimes that happens. When she was a ninth grader, she let me know she didn’t like to read. One day it dawned on me she might really like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, so I told her she should check it out—I thought she’d like it. I don’t really remember for sure, but I think she was in tenth grade by that point. She devoured the book. And the next. And the next. She got the last one when it came out.
Yesterday she showed me that she’s reading The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George. She said, “Look what I’m reading, Ms. Huff. For pleasure! For pleasure!” She watches The Tudors and has developed a real interest in the historical personages depicted in the series. This book is nearly 1000 pages long. I know the Twilight books aren’t skinny, but I admit I was impressed. She is excited about next year and the opportunity to take a Shakespeare course. In short, whether she’s a voracious reader or not, I don’t know, but she is a reader now. So am I taking credit for that? Heck yes, I am (/Napoleon Dynamite voice). In all seriousness, I made a suggestion. It seemed casual at the time, but it did have an impact in that my student did read and love the book I suggested for her. But I didn’t do anything, really. The book did.
NCTE Inbox‘s great post “Helping Families Support Readers” is a great resource for teachers looking for materials to support family literacy and summer reading programs. My own tips:
- Read by example. Let your children see you with a book in your hand, enjoying reading, and they will want to do it, too.
- Read to your children. Keep reading to them even after they learn to read for themselves.
- Set aside class time to read. I don’t do this well because my current school schedule doesn’t allow for it, but when I student taught, my supervising teacher set aside each Friday for reading. Also, the entire school had time set aside two days a week when everyone was supposed to drop everything and read. It had a tremendous impact on SAT scores.
- If you can, allow for some choice. For instance, if you teach American literature, you might want to teach Edgar Allan Poe, but you can allow students to pick which story (or which three stories) they read. You can also allow students to pick a book or two on their own and get credit for a project or paper based on that book. I have successfully integrated this kind of outside reading in my classes before.
- Make suggestions. I suggested a reluctant reader try Stephenie Meyer‘s books, and she loved them. She might not have tried them out if I hadn’t said I thought she would like them.
- Give parents and students resources. Many times I have had parents lament that they can’t get their sons to read, for example. I point them toward Guys Read, which has some great suggestions for books for boys.
How do you decide what your students read?
For many of us, which books we have available in the book room or which books are approved by the school system’s list may limit our choices.
I had a conversation the other day with an English student teacher I know, and she was telling me of her frustrations that her college is pushing her to integrate YA lit into her lesson plans, while the school where she is student teaching is advising her to limit her selections to the book room. I remember taking a course in YA lit in college, and while I loved my professor, the venerable Dr. Agee, who has since retired from UGA, I was never able to use much of what I learned in the class in my high school teaching experience. NCTE also pushes YA lit, to the point of recommending (or they did when I was in college, anyway) books like From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics by Sarah K. Herz and Donald R. Gallo — a book whose purpose is to help teachers learn which YA books might be paired with classics already in the classroom.
I actually really like YA lit. I am reading New Moon, the second book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga. I am a total Harry Potter nut. For my money, The Giver is one of the best dystopian novels I’ve ever read (I love dystopian novels, too), and the only part of teaching middle school that I really enjoyed was teaching The Giver. I don’t mean to discourage YA lit. I think the agenda of our education schools and NCTE is clear — let’s present our students with age-appropriate literature that will grab them. I agree that students should be encouraged to read YA lit, but I’m not sure that I agree we need to let it take over the high school curriculum, and I don’t agree with Teri Lesesne (in the article “Question for the Ages” below), who says that The Catcher in the Rye, The Scarlet Letter, and Beowulf are more appropriate in college. I have successfully taught all three books in high school, and I would even argue that Catcher is best suited for high school — the symbolism is easy, making it a great introduction to symbolism, and students around Holden’s age relate to him.
Some more reading on the subject:
If you have more research or articles on the use of YA lit in the high school classroom and/or selecting age-appropriate books for students, feel free to share in the comments.
Image credit: Nick Today.
English teachers, here’s one to pass on to your students. In celebration of his blog’s seventh birthday (quite impressive!), Neil Gaiman is going to post one of his books online for free for a month. Readers vote on which book they want to see. It might be fun for book clubs or classrooms to participate in a literature circle or perhaps even create student blogs to discuss the book.
Book Glutton might be my new favorite website (via Classical Bookworm). Here’s a demonstration:
I can see all kinds of exciting potential for literature studies. Literature circles would be great on Book Glutton! I love the proximity chat and annotation features. Caveats: the site is still in beta, and according to Sylvia (Classical Bookworm), only works in Firefox (though I admit I didn’t test the site in other browsers, nor could I find information on the site that states the site doesn’t work in other browsers — still, I thought it prudent to pass the warning along).
The first thing I wanted to do was dive in and form a reading group with my students. Social reading networks. I love Web 2.0.
On Tuesday, I participated in a parent/teacher/student conference with one of my tenth graders (I also taught her last year), all of my colleagues who also teach her, and the guidance counselor and learning specialist (in addition to, obviously, the parent). I had recommended that this student read Stephenie Meyer’s novel Twilight, as I thought she would particularly enjoy it. She confessed she didn’t like reading for pleasure much, but with that kind of recommendation, I think she felt compelled to give it a try. She loved it and quickly started in on the sequel. Her mother just wanted to tell me she was so grateful, but what was so moving was that she did it in front of my colleagues. I didn’t really know what to say.
The learning specialist then sent an e-mail to our entire faculty — an e-high-five, if you will. She summarized what happened at the meeting. For the next two days, my colleagues were congratulating me for inspiring the student to read. I felt absolutely great. What a nice way to celebrate our successes — by publicizing that high-five in the way she did, the learning specialist made me feel great for just doing something that I do all the time anyway.
It’s funny to me how doing something I do all the time can have such a huge impact. But that’s what teaching is, and that’s why I love it.