My favorite thing about teaching is either when the lights go on for an individual student, or else when a group of students are deeply engaged in figuring out something together. My third favorite thing is when I’m in a group of teachers deeply engaged in figuring out together how to help one of the first two things happen better. So far this summer the third favorite is happening with Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers by Penny Kittle.
I’ve recommended this book to every member of the high school English department. I know 3 of the 5 have ordered it. One colleague emailed me back and said, “Wow, looking at the synopsis and reviews, Book Love looks like a compelling read! I think I'll go ahead and order it, though I might need to shelve it until I finish with my summer courses.” Five days later, this email arrived: “Book Love came in the mail this morning and, well, I couldn't put it down all day. I just finished it and feel like implementing all her suggestions immediately. Yes, part of that may be the high after reading her passionate call to arms, but I'm excited to see where we can go from here!...(So much for starting my next course this week. Meh, that can wait.)”
I am so energized being part of that kind of learning and excitement! (My husband accuses me of being energized by distracting people from homework, but that’s not it at all.)
What grabbed me about Book Love?
- The real-life stories about struggle and success with individual students.
- The practical nuts-and-bolts plan for things I’d wondered about regarding the practicality of free voluntary reading in high school--like how to set realistic and challenging short- and long-term goals (chapter 3 “Building Stamina and Fluency”).
Right now I’m thinking about how much of her approach I can and should adopt next year. I know I have a different population than she does--at one place she says she wanted to offer her students learning similar to the class preparing for the AP Language and Composition test. A good number of my 10th graders will be preparing for the AP Language and Composition test in 11th grade and the AP Literature and Composition test in 12th grade. For the most part, they come from homes that value books and education, where one or both parents have a college degree and often more.
And yet, I do have struggling readers, I do have a high number of English language learners, and I know I need to work on differentiated instruction of some sort. Every year during high school, one or two students admit this is the first time they’ve done the whole-class and/or independent reading required. Kittle claims she’s never failed to turn every student into a reader by the end of the year.
It has confirmed things I felt I was doing right and want to do even more of:
- More freedom for students to select their own independent reading (less tied to a list).
- Reading goals. The summer reading goal list that worked so well at the end of the school year will be with next year’s 10th graders right away in the fall as a “to-read-next” list.
- Wide reading in YA lit--I currently do this a little--there’s so much else I want to read--but how can I recommend what I don’t know?
- More scaffolding for choosing books for independent reading.
- Mentor texts: More of this later in the summer when I get to my books about writing.
The biggest things to work on for next school year are related to 3 and 4 above:
- Wide reading YA lit: I compiled a list of Kittle’s recommendations from chapter 4 (“Opening Doors into Reading”), and I’ll raid the school library for all the ones that are still in before I go on vacation later this month--It’ll be my beach reading. I’ve already finished the 3 books of the Divergent series that were part of my summer reading goal list.
- Preparing introductory book talks on the YA lit I read: Kittle recommends 4 - 5 per day during the first week of school (see chapter 5 “The Power of the Book Talk”). Incorporate a 1-minute summary, connect to other books (topic, genre, author, style...), and read a short passage to demonstrate something appealing about the action, style, voice, or other aspect.
Actually, that’s only my reflections on chapters 1 - 5; tune in next week for chapters 6 - 9. But that’s one of the great things about a teacher’s summer--relaxed deadlines. Just needed to reflect on what I found most compelling, make a few plans for implementation, and hold my thinking until I can meet with my colleagues after they’ve read the book.
I can’t wait!