Friday, June 20, 2014

Reading Goals Revisited

Last week I wrote about the simplest and so far most effective summer reading program I’ve ever implemented: simply giving students some time and tools and asking them to make a list of 5 books they might be interested in reading over the summer. 

There’s one thing I’ll do differently next year: Ask students to give one sentence explaining why they are interested in the book. I didn’t think of that until the last week before the due date, when I thought of putting the list on the class Moodle for discussion. I gave this as an option when I thought of it, but I didn’t want to up the requirements at the last minute. For many of the choices, I could guess at the reasons, but I found explanations of the handful of students who rose to my request really delightful.

The student who gets a plenty of family support, but still picks up ideas in class:
  1. American Born Chinese by Gene Yang (Comic book style grabbed my attention)
  2. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards (In class I read the back of the book and it really intrigued me)
  3. Room by Emma Donoghue (My older sister read it and requested it to me)
  4. Insurgent by Veronica Roth (I read Divergent so I want to know what happens next)
  5. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (My parents said that it was a really good book and requested it)

The student who mostly reads the blurb and wants to know what happens, but also takes recommendations from friends and pursues patterns in her reading:
  1. Can't Get There From Here by Todd Strasser. This book is about a homeless girl's life. Just wanted to see how her life will change.
  2. Wonder by R.R. Palacio. This book is about a boy with a facial deformity. He is just a 5th grade and I want to read how he overcomes the abuse from his friend at school.  
  3. I Will Plant You a Lilic Tree, a memoir of a Schindler's list survivor by Lura Hillman. This book is about a concentration camp. I read two books about concentration camp, and they both taught me a great lesson. I wanted to read a book about concentration camp again, and I am sure that there are lot more to learn from this book.
  4. Loud Awake and Lost by Adele Griffin. Recommended from Becky, its about a girl who lost her memory from car accident.  
  5. A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd. A girl's mom dies, and her dad turned his back away from reality. So she had to take care of her brothers by herself. I want to see how she will bear these struggles and move forward.  

The student with eclectic reading interests and purposes:
  1. Offworld - Robin Parrish (I'd like to read this book because it's about five astronauts landed on Mars and came back safely on Earth, but every single person mysteriously disappeared, and I thought this plot was interesting.)
  2. 1984 - George Orwell (After reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, I thought the number '1984' has something deep and also, everyone says this book is good, so I want to read it.)
  3. The Shack - William P. Young (Similarly with Offworld, I read the book cover and got interested in it.)
  4. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (The main reason why I chose this book was because everyone talks about this book, while I am oblivious to anything associated with the book The Hunger Games. That's why I'm trying to read it, and I know it will be worth it.)
  5. Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder (This book is a philosophy book, and I thought this would help me learn about philosophies more because I totally haven't read any philosophy books.)

One commonality that struck me is the significance of a reading community. All of these students mentioned an influence from other people in at least one of their choices. 

Nurturing that community, as soon as I heard from the school librarian last week Friday that a book I had requested had arrived, I sent an all-class email to the newly minted 11th graders. 

Dear juniors,

For those of you who are interested in Haruki Murakami (author of After Dark) or in running--Murakami competes in marathons and triathlons. He's also written a short personal reflection on life, running, and writing: What I Talk about When I Talk about Running. (Check the Amazon link for reviews.) The library has just shelved it (H 895.6 MUR), and the library is open on Monday!

Happy summer reading,

Mrs. E

Cause and effect is a tricky thing to be sure of, but I checked the library’s online catalogue on Tuesday, and the book is out!

Report on my summer reading goals: Currently reading Book Love by Penny Kittle (in the middle of chapter 3 I had to stop and email my principal and English department colleague to recommend that she order it and read it, too) and Divergent by Veronica Roth. (Take-away #1: The least I can do is make sure that the generation of young people who are now familiar with the terms abnegation, dauntless, erudite, amity, and candor--the 5 classes of people in this book--know that these terms are actually real English words!)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reading Goals

It was too easy. My cynical side is waiting for the catch; my other side is just a little giddy.

Forty-three out of 45 tenth grade students gave me a list of 5 books they might want to read this summer. All I did was expect them to. And give them some time and tools.  

If your class or school already has a fantastic summer reading program in place, stop now. I’m sure you’re way beyond me. But if youre looking for an easy way to get kids to read over the summer, I just might be able to help you. Check back at this spot in the fall to see how they followed through, but from this end, I’m excited that they set goals, and that their goals are good, reflecting a wide range of genres, challenge, sources of recommendation, and authentic reading reasons. 

One student who at the beginning of the year, when I asked the class to reflect on a book they’d read in the past, stated she was not a reader and could not remember anything she’d read. Classmates tried to prompt her with books they’d studied in 9th grade. Nope, she didn’t remember them.

Her list exceeded the expectation: It had 6 books. 

Nobody just duplicated a friend’s list and handed it in. They all seemed like fairly authentic choices. Many picked the Divergent series, The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game. Clearly classmates have been recommending, and there’s the movie connection. Some picked otherbooks by an author they’d enjoyed (John Green, Haruki Murakami). 

Titles from the book pass I’d done showed up: American Born Chinese, The Help, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Room, Sophie’s World, Warriors Don’t Cry. Titles off The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The GoldfinchSome are clearly preparing for next year’s American Lit class (Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, Outliers). 

Some students very appropriately picked all high-interest YA novels; some students picked all challenging titles (All Quite on the Western Front, The Stranger, Brave New World, The Metamorphosis, and Moby Dick). Others picked a mix. 

Some picked books I’d recommended at one time or another--to an individual in a conference (Shiokari Pass) or to the class because I’d just read it (My Brother’s War) or because it connected to our topic (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking).

Why did I get such a good response? I’m not sure, but here’s my best shot: context, expectations, time and tools, accountability, and modeling.

I set the context. You need to keep reading over the summer for all the reasons you need to read during the school year--because reading... 
  • Is rewarding
  • Builds a mature vocabulary
  • Improves writing
  • Presents a challenge
  • Makes you smarter
  • Prepares you for the world of college and work
  • Expands knowledge of the world
  • Deepens empathy
  • Provides opportunities to "practice" life choices
I set expectations. Because I know that for all these reasons you will want to do some reading over the summer, and because setting a goal doesn’t mean you’ll attain it, but you certainly won’t attain a goal you don’t set, I want you to compile a list by the end of summer reading goals--5 books that you might want to read this summer.

I gave them time and tools. For time, just a couple of odd chunks of time left after a quiz or assignment was done, but I did start a couple of weeks before the end of school--not just suddenly on the last day. For tools, we did one book pass, one exploration of, and one suggestion that they check the library display of senior projects on influential books they’d read. 

The tiniest bit of accountability: a really minuscule number of points on a completion mark, I’ll ask you about it when I see you next year, and I’ll send out the compiled list to the whole class for even more ideas (and who you can discuss your reading with) and to next year’s English teacher.

And, as always, my own example: 
  • Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant, by Veronica Roth. So many people are having book talks about them, I thought I should. And they're always out of the library--so I ordered them from Amazon. They came today! If you want to read them next year, they'll be on the shelf in my classroom.
  • A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Supposedly the greatest Latin American author--the father of magical realism--and this is his greatest work. I've read it before, and didn't see what was so great, but I keep thinking I should try again. Marquez died in May, and this seems like a good time. Mr. Fujiwara really likes it, so I talked to him and got inspired.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert. This is a classic science fiction series, and so many people like Ender's Game, I thought I'd explore whether this series would be good to recommend as well.

What are your reading goals for the summer?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Culminating Assessment

My hope for students in English 10 is that as they practice reading, writing, thinking, listening, and speaking, they engage with their learning in personal ways. Therefore, my culminating assessment is a very open-ended prompt requiring students to choose something that interested them from English class this semester, explore it further through research and/or creativity, connect it to a biblical theme or principle, make a specific action plan for how working with this idea will make a difference in their life, and present the outcome to the class. 

For the past 3 days, I’ve been watching these presentations. Here’s what I’ve seen:
  • Lessons on greed, ambition, contentment, identity, infatuation, love. 
  • Connections to Daniel Beatty’s Def Poetry performance “Knock, Knock,” Ishigaki Rin’s “The Pan, the Pot, the Fire I Have Before Me,” Leo Tolstoy’s “How Much Land Does a Man Need?”, Franz Kafka’s “The Bucket Rider,” Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Research on brain chemicals, introverts and leadership, Shakespeare’s symbolic use of the forest, the recent ferry disaster in South Korea. 
  • Creative expression in posters, drawings, models, short stories, a poem, a museum tour, 2 Web pages (identity and greed), and very memorably, a one-man sock puppet show involving interaction among several characters from different works of literature as well as the puppet master himself. 
  • Determinations to focus on the blessings one has, to choose the smaller piece of cake, to be kind to family members, to pay more attention to a girl’s character than to her appearance, to practice wise use of money.
One delightful project I want to share here was a children’s book on “What Is Love?” The student said she wanted to try to express this complex topic in a simple way. I think she succeeded brilliantly. How about you?

When my dad works until late at night to support the family. That's love.

When my mom listens to my endless stories about school and gives me advice. That's love.

When someone stops to help pick up papers that I dropped in the hallways. That's love.

When my friends push me to do things outside of my comfort zone because they know I can do it. That's love.

When Mrs. Essenburg makes us do 10 corrections on our essays because she knows that's how we'll learn. That's love.

When Hermia and Lysander were willing to run away to get married. That's love.

When Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. That's the greatest love of all.
At times like this, I identify with Simeon: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace....” But then I rein in the drama and just say--I think they’re ready for English 11.