Saturday, July 11, 2015

Using Google Docs to Nurture Summer Reading

How do I communicate my enthusiasm for reading in an infectious way so students who don’t know me, from a school I only visited once, will be more likely to engage in more summer reading?

It’s a situation I’ve never been in, but being in transition to a new school, I’m taking a shot at it this summer. 

The school requires students to read 2 books—1 assigned by the teacher to the whole class, and 1 student-selected from a grade-level list. The school requires some form of assignment for each of those two books. I want the assignment to be not an end in itself, but something that stimulates thought, growth, and more reading, and I want students to choose and read more than just 2 books this summer.

Technology, modeling, scaffolding, and persistencethats how Im hoping to accomplish my goals, asking students (1) to create a “to-read” list, (2) to reflect on their reading, and (3) to share their list and their reflection with each other via a Google Doc I created for each class.  

But first, the modeling: I posted a list of 5 books I was interested in reading over the summer and a reflection on a book I’d recently finished reading. I asked them to post their own list of 5 (1 must be from the grade-level reading list) by the end of the week, and their own response to at least the book from the list (though I encouraged them to do it for more) by the beginning of school. I also provided a list of 10 questions, out of which they could pick 1 or more, to prompt their reflection.

Here’s my “to-read” list:
  1. The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell (New York Times best seller set around the time/place of Beowulf)
  2. So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures  by Maureen Corrigan (since I’ll be teaching The Great Gatsby in AP English 11)
  3. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Given to us at a mission conference--I read and liked Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by the same author)
  4. The Testament by John Grisham (I’ve read others by the same author, but not this one that all the CP 11th graders are reading.)
  5. Nothing but the Truth by Avi (I enjoyed The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, but I haven’t read anything else by this popular young adult author. This is on the 10th grade reading list, and one of my goals this summer is to read as many of the books on the 10th and 11th grade lists as possible.)

Here’s the reflection prompt:
Write a 300+ word reflection, using 1 or more of the prompts below. Avoid mere summary—use specifics from the book to support opinions, evaluations, connections, and applications in the way an educated adult would discuss his or her reading.

  1. Why did you pick this book? To what extent did it live up to your expectation? Rate it 1 (low) to 5 (high) on your own list of great books. To whom would you recommend it?
  2. Fiction: Select one of the main characters, and discuss what changes you observed in this character over the course of the book. 
  3. Nonfiction: What were some of the most interesting things you learned from this book?  
  4. What was a memorable event, scene, secondary character, quotation…? Why? 
  5. Any unanswered questions, confusion, or disagreement?
  6. What kind of style did the author use? Give examples. What did you like/dislike about it? 
  7. What connections did you make? (to other books/movies/songs? the world around? yourself?) 
  8. What is one of the book’s themes? 
  9. How does the book describe any of the following parts of the Christian narrative: The world as God made it to be? What’s wrong with the world? What difference Jesus makes? God’s intention for the world and/or how we can help heal the hurt?
  10. Anything else you wanted to say about the book?

Here’s my reflection on Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier:

I picked this book because I always see it on reading lists and think that I should read it, and then it recently popped up on my Kindle as a daily deal for $1.99, so I thought, “Hey, here’s my chance!” I was always ambivalent about reading it, because I’m not really a suspense/thriller type person, and yet I knew it might be interesting for someone who did love reading those types of books to delve into the history of the genre. (Du Maurier wrote the short story “The Birds” from which Alfred Hitchcock made his famous movie of the same title.) I also figured that since it was written in 1938, it couldn’t be the kind of suspense that would be so graphic it would keep me up at night.

I’d give it a 4 out of 5. I enjoyed how the style of the very first paragraph set me up for mystery and suspense: “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me.” The word choice all tells you something is weird: “Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long, tenacious fingers.” (Yes, this is book will also support SAT vocabulary development!) It reminded me of the description of the setting at the beginning of the Edgar Allan Poe story “The Fall of the House of Usher.” (Poe was another precursor to modern mystery/suspense/horror genres.) Stephen King, a current master of the genre, said of the book (quoted in an Amazon review), “A brilliantly constructed novel—the ultimate in psychological suspense, instantly gripping and haunting, Rebecca will stay with you for ever.”

If you’re not into description, you might find the beginning slow, but it soon picks up. Most of the chapters end with cliff-hangers, and there were several shocking revelations and reversals along the way. (It was an instant best-seller when it first came out in 1938.)

At the same time I was reading Rebecca, I was also reading a book on prayer by Tim Keller that talks about our “disordered loves.” It was interesting how the two books intersect. Boy, was Rebecca ever a tale of disordered loves—though it wasn’t meant that way, it’s a great picture of how twisted up we humans get by loving all the wrong things in the wrong amount.

How’s it working for me so far? Not perfectly—after several weeks of reminders, I have “to-read” lists from all the 11th graders, and only half the 10th graders. But something is always better than nothing. I’ve initiated conversations about books with those students who have responded, commenting on their choices, beginning to get to know them as readers. I’ve read 3 of the 5 books on my list. Time to post reflections on those and send another reminder. 

Good thing I wrote this blog to remind myself to persist!

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