Time to Reflect
Getting back into a rhythm and routine at school has been a challenge this year. We had a new start time, new administration, new schedule, and so many changes and deadlines that it was just overwhelming. Add to that all the things that go along with family life, and there just hasn't been much time for reflection. So this morning it felt wonderful to sleep late, and let my husband bring me coffee in bed. I've neglected my blog because there just wasn't enough time, so if there's anyone left to read this--thanks for bearing with me.
What I've Been Reading
The Pulitzer Prize Committee has my unrelenting love for the last two fiction winners:
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson (2015)
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2016)
I can't wait to see what the committee comes up with for 2017. The Sympathizer is set in Vietnam near the end of the war. The unnamed narrator is a double-agent, who is in the South Vietnamese army but spying for North Vietnam, while also feeding information to the CIA. The novel is a completely enthralling story that is engaging on the narrative level, as well as the moral level. The author interview included in the reader's guide confirmed my sense that Nguyen owed a debt to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, one of my favorite books. If you haven't read The Sympathizer yet, you should.
Both the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and the 2015 winner, Adam Johnson teach at Stanford. Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son is set in North Korea, and this is another book that I could absolutely not put down. I thought it was just brilliant. Like The Sympathizer, The Orphan Master's Son is virtually impossible to summarize. Both novels are about fragmented characters responding to historical and political extremes, and each book is deeply absorbing and beautifully written. I read the two books back to back and it was a great reading experience.
In the Classroom
If you are a teacher (bless you), then you will understand what it means when I say I have three preps this semester. I feel like I'm running on a treadmill, constantly in danger of falling off the back. The three different classes are reading: poetry (in AP Literature); Frankenstein (in English 4 Honors); and Lord of the Flies (in English 4).
On top of trying to read (or reread) along with my students, I'm also reading Crime and Punishment (ardent love), Jim Burke's What's the Big Idea for my personal professional development. And then there are the books that I've committed to review. It's a lot of reading. I'm reading Crime and Punishment (again) because I have several students reading that novel for independent reading. I want to encourage my students to stick with this very challenging book, and to be able to answer their questions and discuss the book with them. Plus, I really love this novel, and I'm enjoying rereading it.
The balance between independent reading and whole class books in the English classroom is a tricky one. My number one priority is to build readers: I want to have students leave my classrooms with a reading habit....I want them to be addicted to reading. To build this habit, I give students time to read in class, and I give them choice about what they read. Here is a brief list of just some of the books students are currently reading in my classroom:
The Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi
Some Boys by Patty Blount
Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Nineteen Minutes and The Pact by Jodi Picoult
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Blood Meridian and The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Blind Assassin and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
That's just a tiny snapshot of the range of books my students are reading (there are 88 students altogether in my three classes). Most students have completed at least one book; most are on their second or third book. A few have read more (as many as eight or nine books). They are all reading the books that speak to them and engage them, and they are all developing as readers.
To make this independent reading plan work, I have to be constantly talking to my students about what they are reading. I read alongside students, get to know them as readers, and recommend books I think they will like. I also have an awesome partner in my media specialist (Leah). She is amazing. She can almost always send a student out of the library with the perfect book. And she has helped me immeasurably with lessons, as a co-instructor, and with recommendations.
Building readers is my passion as a teacher. I try to focus on the important things (reading, writing, thinking) and keep my eyes on the prize. If students walk out of my classroom as real readers, thinkers, writers, then I have done my job.
If you are reading this blog, you are a reader. How did you become the reader you are? How did you develop the reading habit?
I come from a family of readers so I think it just came naturally to me. One of my earliest memories is sitting at the kitchen table reading to my mom while she cooked supper. It was our time and I treasured it because she was always so interested in what I was reading - or, at least she acted like she was.
What a great way to wake up in the morning :)
Loved reading about your students' reading plans. I am so thankful to my parents who always encouraged me to read and would buy me books all the time or at least time me to the library to get books! In school I do remember some of my favorite English teachers would allow us free reading time which meant bring whatever book you want to read and read for several minutes. That always encouraged conversations of what we were all reading and why.
@bermudaonion-that's just beautiful Kathy! What a great memory. I wish more of my students had that kind of experience. I can tell which students were read to as children by where they are placed academically. Students in the highest academic level courses were inevitably read to as children. Children in the lowest level courses almost always were not read to.There might have been real reasons why the parents of those students couldn't find the time to read to their children, but it makes such a difference.
@Iliana-I have those kinds of memories too. I was so fortunate that reading was a big activity in my family. My mother took us on weekly library trips, and my parents read every night. First they would read to us, then they would go and read for an hour or two before bed. Books and reading permeated our lives.
Reading was something everyone in my family loved. Though I know that's not always how it works. I don't know what drives me to read other than a craving for information and story.
@Hibernator's Library-A craving for story! That gets me every time.....
Love that list of books that your students are reading. It's such a tough age because most kids don't want to slow down to read a book. I've often wondered what makes someone a reader and how much of that might come naturally? I've always loved getting lost in a story and was the true book lover in my family, but my sister has recently taken up reading and reads almost as much as I do these days. My other sister and brother rarely read a thing. I'll be so curious to see how my own girls turn out.
I haven't read either of those Pulitzer Prize winners but both sound fantastic.
@Trish-most students don't want to put aside their devices or slow down enough to read. But if you give them the right book, you can hook them! I can't imagine my life without books and reading. I want that for my students.
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