“A book isn’t rigorous if students aren’t reading it.”
Every year we have to make professional learning goals as a part of our evaluation process. And while those goals are usually things that need to be measured, I spoke at length with my administration during my initial observation meeting about self-improvement professional development ideas (PD). One of those ideas was simply to read more professional books to incorporate new strategies and techniques into my teaching practice.
And while this was not my first PD reading this school year, it is a favorite and something I felt strongly enough about to write a blog post. I don't normally include PD books, readings, etc on my blog, but why not? I'm sure there are teachers who might stumble across these posts, and I know that I have friends and readers who might be willing to share their own experiences, either as a student, a parent, or a fellow teacher.
Book Love first crossed my radar this past fall at a district PD event. After our district launched a Battle of the Books competition between the 4 high schools, the ELA teacher leaders (I am one of two for my building) decided that we needed to have a PD about independent reading and the importance of choice reading for students. It's not something that is widespread across our district but needs to be. I have tried to include choice reading time into my classes since I started teaching, but it's difficult when there is not a culture of reading in your building. Students fight against it, not seeing it as important. I've caught more kids plagiarizing book projects and reports than anything else.
Book Love addresses a lot of those issues and gives strategies on how to incorporate meaningful reading into the lives of teenagers. It's difficult to show students the importance of reading, especially when the only reading they may do in a high school English classroom is old, stuffy texts. I have long been a proponent of reading whatever I want, whenever I want, which is why I love YA and don't hide it. But I also read non-fiction, biographies, classics, etc. However, there is a disconnect between my passion for reading and getting that passion instilled in my students.
I was born a reader. I never fought reading and would willingly read my required amount of time in elementary school (and over). ELA homework and reading assignments were the only homework that was always done (Math....not so much). It has sometimes been a struggle for me to get that same passion across to my students. And while I have pulled in independent reading projects and time in class, I haven't really utilized it effectively.
Kittle talks at length about creating a culture for reading in your classroom-from giving time for students to read, book talks, looking at language, and cultivating an extensive classroom library. She starts each lesson with ten minutes of reading time in her classroom. She uses that time to conference with students about their reading, making it through every student in her class in about 2-3 weeks. She checks on their stamina depending on difficulty of books students are reading (this is talked about at length in her book-essentially how fast you can read depending on difficulty. For instance, I can fly through a 500+ page YA novel in an afternoon. A classic? A couple weeks). She also talks with students about creating book lists of books to investigate, challenges to read 20 books a semester (she considers a book to be about 250 pages, which makes it more doable for students), and having students share their reading.
I ended her book wanting to be a student in her class. She really stresses the importance of students being able to read as much as possible for college to keep up with that reading, but also to choose things that not only interest them, but challenge them at the same time. Her book is littered with book titles (many of which I wrote down as TBRs) and ideas for getting students to read.
Since I took over our remedial 11th grade course this year, I have been trying to include more and more independent reading. For many of those students, reading has been a barrier to their ELA education. They are with me to not only become better readers, but to improve their writing. The two are closely linked together. And while I have included independent reading time, I'm finding ways to improve it. First semester included one day a week of reading time (which was honestly too much time for these kids to stay focused). Starting second semester, we changed it to ten minutes a day. We've seen more kids read consistently...and actually finishing books (I say "We" since I co-teach the class with a special education teacher). We've also included book talks into our lessons since the beginning of the year.
But I love Kittle's ideas, and I'm hoping we can implement more of that culture in our classes next year. My co-teacher is currently reading the book so we can be on the same page next year. I'm working on pulling together a classroom library. My current stash of books is quite pathetic, but I recently took in a bunch of books from home (that I could bear to part with) and have plans to hit up some used book stores, our library's book sales, and garage sales to fill the shelves I have. I've also asked for a grant to get more bookshelves and books for next school year.
There is something about reading and trying to ignite that love in my students that is driving me. Kittle's book just knocked that passion into place and gave me some direction. I have no doubt I'll be referring to it and her ideas as I continue to build that reading culture in my classroom.
“Teenagers want to read - if we let them.”