Our 9th and 10th grade English teachers asked me to present books to their classes before the winter breaks and I decided to switch it up this year. In the past, I’ve organized faculty ideas and requests and laid out a few tables of books. Students descend and I have shortshort conversations with each about one good title. This has led to some serendipitous moments, a majority of happy-ish readers, and, always, a few student slipping through the cracks without books (or with books that are in the return bin at the end of the day).
This year, I’ve decided to challenge myself to push my own boundaries of Reader’s Advisory and book knowledge. Students have been asked to fill out a form detailing their preferences: recent books their enjoyed; genres; particular titles of interest; pop culture; and a book they feel they “should” read. From these, I am selecting 3 books per student from our collection. One teacher has asked that his student each receive a modern classic or Alex Award-style “adult book with appeal to teens”. So, here’s my progress so far on selecting 240 titles for 80 students from our collection.
I used a Google Form to gather student data and then converted it into individual reader’s advisory.
This was the hard part! The range of reading and book knowledge, particularly in 9th grade was all over the place. One student had recently read the Autobiography of Malcolm X while others listed only books they’d read for 8th grade English. I used NovelList a great deal in connecting their personal interests to titles in our collection. I also learned a lot about the television they like. My students and huge fans of Hemlock Grove, Criminal Minds and superhero shows.
I selected three books for each student. If they specifically requested a title, they got it. I’m surprised by the number of students who requested non-fiction and memoirs, and it’s a good reminder that I need to develop these parts of the collection this year. I also learned that the majority of our paperback classics look like they’ve been living in a garage. I need to replace a lot of them this year.
On Monday, my first group of students will be presented with their books and my notes on why I picked them. The goal is for each student to leave for Thanksgiving break with ONE great book – hopefully one in their pile – and come back with feedback. If this goes well, I hope to do it again before Spring Break.
Another big takeaway is that I tend to rely on titles I’ve read – and I need to read more classics. It’s been a while since I read a Faulkner or Steinbeck and I have no idea how much they resonate with teens. I’m still not convinced of the necessity of reading “the great books” of the Western canon. It’s too old, white, male and upper class for me. I need to be careful my bias doesn’t negatively affect my readers. More to think on…
I think I’m a reader because my parents are readers. I grew up watching my mom devour romance novels and my dad dive into the paper every day. We always had magazines, books, academic journals and newspapers in our home. While we rarely went to the library after elementary school, twice a month I was given a few bucks to spend at Annie’s Book Stop, a local used bookstore. I bought gems! I found The Hitchhiker’s Guide and the Belgarion at Annie’s. I bought poems and pulp fiction and Sweet Valley High for 50 cents each. I still have my copy of the complete stories of Edgar Allen Poe. Thus was my reading life sustained during the years I might have given up on reading from lack of choice and access.
I’m thinking about this as I read more about Sustained Silent Reading, book choice, summer reading, incentive programs, etc. How do we create readers and, in the MS/US environment, keep them reading? How do we create an environment in which reading for pleasure is a given and students are excited to read a wide array of sources? There are so many answers in educator’s circles and even some arguments (for or against summer reading prizes, anyone?)
This is all to say that I think we need to do more to model reading in my library. I think it sends a powerful message to kids to see adults and their peers reading for pleasure. Maybe we need to have a Read-in or create Read posters or create a nook specifically for reading magazines. Maybe I need to spend more time documenting and sharing the excellent reading behaviour I already see in some students and teachers. It’s always been a goal of mine to have a One Book program with an author visit…
What are the things you do to model and encourage reading for pleasure?
I really loved Sara Mosle‘s NYT Opinionator piece about non-fiction and the Common Core. I started working in libraries just as Eat, Pray, Love and Three Cups of Tea became book-club bestsellers and was reminded of the literary merit of other non-fiction writers like David Sedaris, Chuck Klosterman, Diane Ackerman and Mary Roach. Reading literary non-fiction helped me as a writer, gave me the stamina to slog through graduate school reading and expanded my knowledge of the complexities of world history and the human experience.
I understand the consternation of high school English teachers faced with finding and teaching non-fiction but agree with Ms. Mosle that excellent examples of literary non-fiction are everywhere. Schools that do both the IB and Common Core have limited options on the new (2011) Prescribed Literature in Translation list which contains memoirs from Wole Soyinka and Orhan Pamuk and the autobiography of Janet Frame, An Angel At My Table. The World Literature List from 1999 does not contain any non-fiction selections.
Here at WIS, our 6th graders read The Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi and the 8th graders are reading Persepolis but no non-fiction is taught in the Upper School. A teacher admitted s/he doesn’t teach non-fiction because of a lack of knowledge of excellent sources. I see an opportunity here and hope you do too.