I value my students’ identities as readers and writers and I have been consciously making changes in my classroom to reflect that. My classroom climate is becoming one where a culture of reading is the norm and notthe exception. My students pull out books at every opportunity and it fills my teacher heart with joy! To my mind, the next step was to show my students that books extend beyondthe four walls of my classroom. I wanted to show them that books can create a social occasion and talking with others can extend our understanding of a work.
I belong to a book club and have for several years. The ladies in my book club have been getting together to talk about books on a semi-monthly basis since 2004. In the beginning, all of the ladies in the book club were public school teachers or college professors and so they called themselves The Educated Ladies Book Club. We meet monthly (or semi-monthly) at either a restaurant or one of the members’ homes and we eat and we laugh and we talk about books. We discuss books we love and books we hate; we share laughter and tears over fictional characters; we learn about each other as human beings through the insights we gain in the pages of a book. I knew I wanted those same experiences for my students, but obviously I couldn’t take them to a book club meeting. The only option left was to bring a book club meeting to them. So, that’s what I did.
Last week I invited four ladies from my book club to come in to my classroom and help me model book clubs for my students. Sarah and Pat, two retired educators, came in the morning. As original members of our book club, they shared some of our group history and some of what makes our book club special. The three of us sat in front of my students and we talked about Station Eleven, a beautiful post-apocalyptic novel our book club read a couple of years ago and that my students were in the middle of. Sarah, Pat, and I talked about what we liked, and didn’t like, about the novel. We made connections to other works. We questioned some of the author’s choices. We laughed. And my students took it all in. After about twenty minutes, I broke my students into three groups and each of us sat with a group and we talked to the students. We listened to what they had to say. No study guide questions; no reading quizzes. Just pure conversation.
Rosemary and Meadow, two college professors, joined my students in the afternoon. The three of us sat in front of my students and we talked about Educated, Tara Westover’s memoir. It was our book club selection for the month and a work I had shared in part with my students. Meadow shared some of her personal family history and my students were fascinated. Eventually, we repeated the process from the morning and sat with the students in a literature circle fashion and discussed the independent reading books they were currently reading. It was a beautiful sight. At one point, I had to bite back an exclamation of surprise as I witnessed one of my most challenging students talking animatedly to Rosemary in a way I have not been able to get him to engage with me.
The entire day was joyful for me as the teacher. Not only did I get to spend the day talking about books I love with my friends, I also got to witness my students, who I genuinely enjoy as human beings, grow in their understanding of what books can do.
When my kids came in to my classroom the next day, I asked them to reflect in their writers’ notebooks about the events of the previous day. I wrote in mine, too, under the document camera, as I do every day. Afterwards, I asked them to share. You see, my hope was that at least some of them had left the day before with the idea that talking about books can be fun and social. The reality is that they left with much more.
Jason started us off by saying, “You know, I thought I was going to hate it, but I didn’t hate it.” The class chuckled good naturedly, but I considered that a win and I rewarded Jason with an air-five!
Then I started hearing comments like:
- “They really listened to me.”
- “I feel like they respected my opinions.”
- “Rosemary wrote down some of the books I suggested.”
- “They made me feel important.”
- “Pat likes the same kinds of books I do! When will she and Sarah come back?”
My students’ take away from that day was more than I could ever have hoped for. I wanted them to see that books don’t have to only be discussed with teachers in classrooms, and they did. I hoped they would notice the academic transitions we used when we modeled our book discussions, and they did. But even more importantly, they left feeling validated in their reader identities. On the first day of school I asked my students to tell me who they are as a reader and many of them struggled; they didn’t see themselves as readers. Recently, I posed that same question as a prompt in their notebooks. When our timer went off after five minutes, they were still writing. My students are starting to see themselves the way I see them: as readers.
WVCTE is wondering how you work to establish your students’ reader identities in your classrooms?