Friday, November 4, 2016

Target Reading Adults: Share, Celebrate, Cultivate Reading

Every classroom needs a library: here's a part of mine.
What did you do the last time you finished reading a book you’d picked up just because you’re a reader? I’ll bet you didn’t take a test or spend hours creating an elaborate project! You may have talked to a friend—whether to gush, complain, recommend, or just process. You may have posted a review online—on Amazon, Goodreads, your own blog, or just a quick tweet or Facebook note.

I want my students to become reading adults. Since they are already 10th and 11th graders, if they’re not going to major in English (and statistics say that’s highly unlikely), school has only a very short time left to help them toward this goal. One thing we can do is replicate as closely as possible what it’s like to be a reading adult, and in such a way that there’s a high probability students will experience the enjoyment, community, stimulation, and growth that keeps us adult readers coming back to the books.

At the end of first quarter, in an attempt to simulate the way adults would respond to a book, I gave my students three options for reporting on their independent reading: (1) post a review on Goodreads (200+ words), (2) make an individual appointment with me for a 10-minute book talk before school, after school, or at lunch, or (3) share in a whole-class round-table discussion during the final period of the quarter. 

Results? Individual book talk appointments with me were a distant last place. (And that is what I did exclusively 2 years ago…at great commitment of my time!) Some students really got into posting reviews (a new option this year), and a slight majority opted to share with the whole class. (This was especially well-received by the juniors with whom I’d initiated this option previously. Some of them lit up when they said, “Oh! We get to do that circle thing like we did last year!”) A few students expressed interest in sharing more than one way! Some specifics:
  • One student who had already had an individual book talk with me about Challenger Deep by Neal Schuster was able to also share in some extra time at the end of our round-table discussion. He told me later that sharing with whole class was more fun.
  • One student who had posted review on Brave New World brought the book to the round-table, and when we ran out of time for her to share again, she asked, “Can we continue this on Monday?”
  • One student shared with the class her excitement about A Thousand Splendid Suns, and how she enjoys novels about women in Middle Eastern countries. (Last year she’d enjoyed The Pearl that Broke Its Shell.) As she was walking out of class, I handed her the nonfiction book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women World Wide. That was Monday. By Friday she was 3/4 done and sharing with a friend how great it was.
But are they taking it out of the classroom? That Thursday and Friday we had High School Camp. Thursday night, just before lights out, I lay in my bunk, staring at my Kindle, trying hard not to let on how much English-teacher-geek joy I was getting out of overhearing this unprompted conversation, as the girls in my cabin discussed what’s so great about John Green and the relative merits of various fantasy series (Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Harry Potter, and Divergent). One girl wasn’t talking; she was reading.

Friday afternoon, after we’d gotten back to school and while students were waiting for their rides, I had a discussion with one student about themes that all great science fiction shares. I passed Ready Player One on to him, and he promised to get me Dune. Later that evening, a friend of his had also marked Ready Player One as “to-read” on Goodreads.

I can always do more and better, and I’m always looking to up my game and help more kids connect with their inner reader. But right now, I’m just going to take the rest of the weekend to celebrate the successes I’ve seen.

How do you respond to a book when you’ve finished? How do you help students experience the joy of an adult reading life? What successes have you seen? Celebrate them! Let’s learn from each other and try again next week.

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