Connecting with students through books

In the last year and a half I’ve probably read 25 novels in addition to seven or eight teaching or other non-fiction books. Hey, for someone who puts in as many hours teaching, planning and reading about teaching and planning as I do, that’s pretty good. Earlier in my career, I treated reading fiction like dessert. You know, “No dessert until you’ve cleaned your plate!” In teaching, there’s almost no way to “clean your plate.” There’s always another stack of papers to grade or give feedback on; there’s always another lesson to plan or tweak. As a yearbook and newspaper adviser, there’s always a late night or work Saturday to prepare for, a glitch in the production system to work out, a computer that won’t load InDesign correctly or a camera with an error code. There is always Something.  Thus, I rarely read a book for the fun of it.

However, since I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer, the kind whose name appears on the cover of novels. I decided that reading the kind of writing I wanted to do was simply homework. Last year I began to read at bedtime, and as I got further into the book, it would take more and more of my time. When I finished it, I’d have another – and another. I overheard students talking about certain books, and I’d be able to say, “Oh, that’s a good book. Hey have you read ——-?” I remember hanging out with a couple of my news staffers talking about books for over an hour after school one day. We daydreamed about my sponsoring a book club. But, really, none of us had the time. We all felt that connection, though.

Even in my other classes where I didn’t know the kids as well, I’d be able to walk by a desk, flip a cover up, and say, “Mmmm, good book.” They’d look up at me in surprise. Sometimes I’d recommend another similar book. I had yearbook staffers loan me books – like “Perks of Being a Wallflower.” I had kids in class who enjoyed reading while I was teaching. Of course, this is a no-no, and I’d have to tell them to put it away, but after class I’d ask them about their book and we’d chat a bit. I’d see them in the hall the next year and ask if they’d read any good books and we’d have a quick book chat. What a way to connect, huh?

My news staff did a feature double truck on reading last year, and they let me do a guest book review. I wrote it over Jandy Nelson’s “I’ll Give You the Sun.” Great book. The editor reviewed “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” She wrote it so well that I was curious enough to read it over the summer.

This year, a couple weeks before schools started, I was given a new class to teach: Reading for Fun. For the most part, I have kids who read at all different levels, enjoying several different genres. I ask them to keep a reading log in Google Docs and note their progress a couple times a week. Then, at the end of the book, they can write a review, analyze a character, sketch a scene, create a vocabulary list. There is a huge list to choose from that I gathered from sites provided by my PLN. A couple of the kids came up with ideas of their own. One designed a book cover in PhotoShop for a piece of fan fiction he read. Another wrote a script for one of the scenes in her book. She and a couple other students are considering finding an audio recording app so they can record them reading it, then save it as a file.

I love reading and lots of students do too. It’s one way I connect. When that doesn’t work, there is always chocolate or that last stick of gum.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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