A colleague, Tricia, sent a blog post my way about the value of shared texts or more more to the point, “Stop Reading Whole-Class Novels.” I weighed in and wanted to blog this discussion because what I love about the autonomy of teaching at an international school is lively discussion among self-selected colleagues.
The impetus for the conversation was whether or not “to do The Giver” by Lois Lowry in Grade 8 as a novel study after having reflected on the challenges presented by the previous unit, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.
One student had read this book in Grade 5 at her previous school in Singapore–respected for its educational system. One or two students breezed through it in a week. A few dedicated ones kept up with the modest pace of the reading assignments–while others clearly were challenged by the book and either didn’t read it or fake read it. These unfortunately souls’ contributions to class discussion were painfully and awkwardly forced or inaccurate. A few simply stated, “I don’t like the book.”
For the record, I loved Hatchet, because when I read it years ago it challenged me to consider what I truly knew about how to sustain myself. I’m a fan of Gary Paulsen for his desire to challenge students to value what is normally taken for granted–including Night John, which spotlights the ability to read and the sacrifices made to attain it during slavery.
However, I had not selected the book. Plus, I’m averse to the idea of “doing a book” in middle school and would rather teach reading strategies through books kids really want to read. Hatchet had been selected by a faculty who had left the school, but whose lead the newbies were following as mandated by a virtually brand-new English department. As sometimes happens at international schools–major reshuffles occur as people move on to, in this case, largely Singapore.
So in a delicious sense of ownership, I rewrote the next unit away from the narrow focus of one novel, The Giver–a book I appreciate for its provocative theme that questions the concept of a benevolent dictatorship–to a Dystopian Lit unit which includes The Giver as an option on a book list.
Since we don’t have classroom libraries at our school, I crowd sourced some books from colleagues. I also checked out a copy or two of popular young adult fiction titles from the school library. There are no local public libraries where I live in Indonesia.
For the record, I use shared texts (short stories) in my mini-lessons to introduce the genre, including literary themes. My hope is to spark class discussion as well as students’ love for reading as they read voraciously titles they “discovered.”
Here’s my response to Autodizactic‘s plea to reconsider whole class book, but go read the original (Don’t take my word for it) and the other comments as well:
Love this post because I have been struggling with choice since I moved from teaching elementary to middle school. I appreciate the observation about the category of students while also fighting my old timey sense that some pieces of the canon are just simply “good for you.”
What I’ve settled on for my classes of reluctant readers is that choice, at least, removes the excuse that “I didn’t like the book” or it was too easy, or too hard, or “we read it 2 years ago” or whatever. You remove yourself from the defensive position. By empowering the students, you get a glimpse into their ability to choose as well as their interests.
I’m also curious, because I want to know about new hot books students are reading. At the same time, I try to give them choice with boundaries. We’ve just launched a dystopian lit unit and students can choose titles that fall under this definition–which also sparks conversations about what technically a dystopia is.
I don’t think it’s either / or, but both. Choice and pre-selected. We do shared readings (usually short stories) for mini-lessons on literary terms, genre, writing traits, etc. A time for everything . . . everything in its time.