Forget everything except the Book, the Reading, and the Readers

My recent writing and professional reading is focused on one system: making required reading, and specifically novels, work for students and teachers.

This is an extension of Hacking Literacy, which included a system for creating the right environment for readers.  That book is the where and the why of a literacy classroom: It offers steps to create a place where a culture of readers can grow and arguments on why such a place is important.

Sticking with the 5Ws theme, the last few posts are focused on the what and the how of reading instruction. I’m trying to answer these questions:

  • What should we provide students to read so that they are challenged with volume, range, and complexity?
  • How do we provide students a balanced, them-centered literacy experienced while meeting the other mandates of our jobs?

This second bullet hints at a reality that must be acknowledged: Many teachers are compelled to teach specific texts to their students. These may be whole novels, short stories, nonfiction books, essays, poems, or plays.

One of the most common types of required reading at the secondary level is the whole class novel.  Unfortunately, teaching a whole class novel without intention is also one of the less effective things that literacy educators do.

We might benefit from a system for how to select, plan, and assess students’ whole class reading.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll call this system The Book, The Reading, and The Readers.

  1. The Book: There must be a compelling reason for students to read this specific book. Maybe you or your students have hand-picked this book. Maybe you are a first-year teacher who must keep her job, you are surrounded by veterans, and you have a curriculum mandate to teach a book. 
  2. The Reading: The reading process should mirror an adult’s reading of a novel as closely as possible. It has been argued by many literacy educators with more experience than me that dissecting every moment of a whole class novel will turn students off from reading and will likely not make them better readers, either. (See here and here.)
  3. The Readers: The assessment should not destroy the reading process for student readers but should extend it in a meaningful and exciting way. This third option is the subject of next week’s post.

It’s most likely the case that all three of these components cannot be optimized at all times, and it might be exhausting to try to achieve that.  However, if we strive towards care with The Book, The Reading, and The Readers, then we may succeed in selecting the right texts for our class and teaching them in a way that moves students forward.

How do you design whole class reading experiences?

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