Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy New Year

My double-wide, portable 29
After nearly 20 years you’d think this teaching gig would get easier, right? It does but it seems the more experience I have the more I question and refine my practice. 

What does reading look like in my classroom? I balance our reading work among the reading approaches: read aloud, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading. My students, by year’s end, traditionally develop robust reading habits. At least a third of our time is spent reading. Students choose the books they want to read for independent reading and they read them in class, on school buses, at lunch, at home and sometimes even while walking the campus. After listening to Nancie Atwell and others speak during Middle 
School Mosaic in 2009, I seriously questioned teaching whole class novels.  I have been questioning the whole class novel for some time (see Do These Jeans Fit You?).
Common texts are mandated at my school. Like Jim Burke, I have to teach Romeo and Juliet and The Odyssey. I also have to teach Speak. The Hunger Games is an optional common text at the ninth grade at my school. My reluctant and struggling readers need the magic a whole class read of a novel provides, but it's time for me to push the students enrolled in my honors class to do more independently.

I have taught whole-class novels every year. We read Romeo and Juliet, Bronx Masquerade, Anthem and more, together. Some of the reading is done in class and some at home (think Gallagher discussion of Carol Jago’s “guided tour” and “budget tour”) (79). In my best years we can read 8 novels together—those teaching days were during the block scheduling heyday in my county, something we have not had for more than 5 years. With 45 minute class periods, last year we only read 5. Though students read many more titles independently during reading workshop time, I want to make what we do together as authentic as our silent reading Mondays were last year (many students met and exceeded my  25 books a year expectation in the 9th grade).   I need to shift my thinking so that I can do more with students.

For more than I year I’ve been thinking and reading and talking to teachers about how to change how I use whole class novels. Right now, my answer is not to abandon the core text, but to use it differently. Meaning instead of reading 1 core text with an entire class, students will now have a choice of several titles. As Atwell said, “kids need the power of stories to invite, nurture and sustain.” Instead of doing the same book at the same time with all of the students in a class, I will immerse students in books and expect them to read one “assigned” book (from several choices) and one book for pleasure, any book of their own choosing.  This is not to say that we won’t ever read a text together. We will. Students need support. The magic of shared reading is often the spark my reluctant or alliterate students need. In addition, some texts demand it. Romeo & Juliet, for example, is like a foreign language to my ninth graders. Reading matters.

My direct instruction of strategies and English content will be connected to short texts (articles, short stories, and poetry) and then students will apply those strategies to the core novel they have chosen. Does that make sense? I can still meet the curricular demands of my school, by include excerpts from the common texts in my mini-lessons (and I’ll bet most if not all students will choose to read Speak and The Hunger Games though not at the same time). This way they won’t have to. If I increase autonomy and provide more choice, I should see an increase in motivation, at least according to Daniel Pink and my own experiences.

My revised curriculum map is embedded from Scribd below. I've included links to the short texts (and handouts of my own creation) when available. 


Atwell, Nancie. 21 Nov 2009. Middle School Mosaic Presentation. National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention, Philadelphia.

Gallagher, Kelly. 2009. Readicide. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Pink, Daniel. 2011. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York, NY:          Riverhead Books.