Growing up I was a voracious reader. My aunt owned a dance studio, which was right across the street from the local public library. In between classes or while waiting on my sister, I would walk over to the library. I would quickly do my homework and then wander the building, scouring the shelves for new books. As an early reader, I remember checking out all the books by the author Steven Kellogg and as I got older looking for every Anastasia Krupnik book, the Babysitter’s Club Series, Sweet Valley High and anything R.L. Stine. As I entered middle school, my taste in literature developed and I found a love for classic literature, biographies and contemporary novels. In 9th grade, I read To Kill a Mockingbird and it instantly became my favorite novel, until I entered high school.
In 10th grade, all sophomore english classes had to read To Kill a Mockingbird and sadly, the book unit dragged on for what seemed like an eternity. It droned on for months and I remember the joy for the story I cherished being slowly sucked out of body. Papers, quizzes, short answer, vocabulary, multiple choice, watch the movie, go see the play…you get it. It was torturous. Add to the fact, we read the novel aloud everyday in class and it was a book nightmare.
Eventually as I embarked on my teaching career, this classroom experience ultimately helped me become a better teacher. I was cognizant of student boredom and frustration and from this my teaching methodology developed. My focus on teaching literature became one of progression, differentiation and purpose.
Keep It Moving
Nobody wants to spend three months reading a book. It’s awful and you’re guaranteed to kill the book for your students. It’s imperative to keep the book fresh and to cultivate a love of reading. The goal I set for my classroom (depending on the length of the story), is to complete the book within three weeks.
Not Everyone Likes To Read Aloud
Reading aloud has its purpose but many kids are terrified to read in front of their classmates. In my case, I hated listening to my classmates read. I know that sounds mean, but I wanted to read at my own pace or at a minimum, listen to the teacher. At least she seemed enthusiastic and the book sounded special coming out of her mouth. Overall, I think it’s important to mix it up. I love reading aloud to my students, but book clubs are also a great way for kids to experience literature. Often times, I would find some of my students reading together while one or two group members went off and read alone. Unless we are all engaged in a story discussion, I think it is important to give kids options.
Make It Purposeful
The best way to ruin reading is to assign a bunch of mindless worksheets to go along with the story. Often times when searching for curriculum, I see resources with hundreds of page and it’s sadly a case of quantity over quality. When creating and purchasing materials for a novel study, I look for activities that promote discussion and focus on important story elements like theme, conflict, plot and character with opportunities for student creativity. Vocabulary, short answer and comprehension questions have their place within a novel study, but in moderation. Incidentally, creating and using purposeful curriculum will improve the flow of a novel unit. If the unit is progressing at a snails pace, it’s time to ditch some of the worksheets, read more and focus on engaging book talk with the students.
As a middle school teacher, I saw a lot of reluctant readers. Students that said they hated reading, but I knew this wasn’t completely true; they just needed to find the right book or genre. Biography and autobiography are a great way to peak interest as well as rotating book clubs and creating an independent book study.
I prefer flexible curriculum. I tend to steer away from units where there is an overly detailed, instructional break down for each day. Some guidance and explanation within the material is helpful but overall I look for quality content which I can tailor to fit the needs of my students.
Even as parents, these concepts are easily adaptable to home reading and something I will touch on in a later post. Just remember reading with your child is the first step in being an “extra” parent.
I am excited because I am now at a quiet point in life, which means it’s time to reread To Kill a Mockingbird as well as create some of my own ELA classroom materials.
Here are two of my resources for the book A Turtle in Paradise. Best read by children in grades 4-6, it’s an entertaining story about a young girl, Turtle, who goes to live with her extended family in Key West, Florida during the Great Depression. I loved this book.
These are available through my store, The Extra School Mom, on Teachers Pay Teachers. Even though it says teachers, anyone can sign up and purchase materials from the best curriculum developers in the world, classroom teachers.