To me, one of the best things about teaching high school is getting a fresh start with students at the start of the second semester. It’s a time for me to evaluate what is and isn’t working and what should (and shouldn’t) be changed in my classroom. I typically find that there is at least one change that I need to make.
Since I’ve been teaching AP English, my students have been doing some sort of structured out-of-class reading assignment; in recent years, my students have been writing book reviews in the style of The New Yorker, which has been immensely important in terms of their writing. What I’ve found, however, is that though this has made them stronger writers, it has not made my students stronger readers. If my ultimate goal from my out-of-class reading assignment is to help my students increase their reading fluency, stamina, and to increase the depth of their reading then I was falling far short.
When I introduced my new independent reading assignment*, I did so transparently. I told my students that the old assignment wasn’t achieving the goals I had in mind so we were going to start fresh! The students were excited as soon as they realized I was going to give them complete control on the books they chose. We set our weekly reading goals, established the method of tracking their reading and how they would be assessed, introduced the “one pagers” they would be completing for each book they read, and scheduled our field trip to our school library. I must admit that their enthusiasm was contagious and I got a great sense of joy out of matching a student to the “right” book for him or her.
I started to rebuild my classroom library, something I had admittedly neglected over the past few years. I also discovered the Booksource Classroom Organizer app. Trust me when I say you need this in your life! This app allows the teacher to scan the bar code on the backs of books and uses that info to create a digital record of all of the books in one’s library. Then, the teacher can check books in and out to students by scanning them! It’s amazing. My students and I have both been loving the ease of this app.
After a couple of weeks, some of my students’ enthusiasm was beginning to wane and I realized it was because I wasn’t taking the time to talk to them about books: the ones they are reading AND the ones I’m reading. I also wanted to show them different ways to interact with books and their authors.
If one of the best things about teaching high school is getting a do-over at the semester, another is not having to create bulletin boards. All of the bulletin board-loving teachers out there deserve a virtual high-five! Instead, I created displays in the hallways for my students and others to see. Directly across from my room is the “Was the book better than the movie?” display where I highlight upcoming movie releases based on books. Already, I have students who have checked all three titles out of my classroom library so they can read the book before they watch the movie.
Next, I have the “What is Mrs. Poling reading?” display where I show students they books I have read in the recent weeks/month. Here, I post a copy of the cover of the book as well as a plot teaser. I make sure my students see my reading a variety of authors and genres. In January, I read the YA work The Hate U Give, Erin Chack’s non-fiction book of essays entitled This is Really Happening, and Celeste Ng’s powerful Little Fires Everywhere. I’m currently reading Naomi Alderman’s The Power and engaging in a #slowbookchat on Twitter on Sundays with a group of educators from around the country led by the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, Shanna Peeples.
Directly beside the “What is Mrs. Poling reading?” is the “Tweet the Author” display. Our students have opportunities to interact with the authors of the books they are reading in ways I didn’t have when I was their age; they simply need to be taught how to take advantage of the technology at hand.
Being an independent reader doesn’t mean being a lonely reader. Our classrooms need to be reading communities where we share our love of books and reading with one another. Personally, reading has brought me great joy. I have been a world traveler; I have pondered existence with Prince Hamlet; I have studied the world’s great extinctions; and I have made lifelong friends who I visit year after year. I want the same for each of my students.
*If you would like to see a copy of my independent reading assignment handout, feel free to reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WVCTE wonders how you create a community of readers in your classroom?