Books that Matter

Sunday, January 5, 2014

     The literacy coaches and I have had many conversations recently about close reading, and what it is, how to do it, our concerns about it, and the value of it.  I have also had very lengthy phone conversations over the break with Anne Kruder, the literacy coach from Piper and my co-presenter for the now postponed Institute Day session on close reading with 2nd and 3rd graders.  She has really helped me to pinpoint exactly what my hopes are for teaching students to close read.  With the help of Anne, and my guy Christopher Lehman, I have come to an epiphany.


I want students to find books that matter to them.  

     Sounds simple, right?  With the reading workshop push, kids are reading independently for 40-60 minutes a day.  They are building their stamina and becoming independent readers. Our F&P data shows that the kids are making progress and moving up levels.  They are doing it!

     My question is, after all those F&P tests, I have gotten quite concerned with the number of children who are progressing through the levels, but only have limited comprehension of what they read.  If their fluency is above 98%, many of our students only need limited comprehension to pass to the next book. I suppose that is fine, say, if they are reading a book about snakes that the teacher assigned to them with the task of finding facts about how snakes hunt.  They will be able to do that with limited comprehension, because they will hopefully use the book to find it.  But, will the kid with limited comprehension read Charlotte's Web on their own and cry when Charlotte dies?  Or when her spiderlings stay back with Wilbur?  That's the part that always gets me...  

I want kids to cry when they read Charlotte's Web.  
Is that so wrong?  

     In all seriousness, if kids feel something while reading a book, they are reading closely.  They are noticing the details.  They are seeing the significance of events.  They know a character's motivation.  They make a connection to the character's life, and it drives their comprehension of the story.  That does not happen independently unless the book matters to the students.  I want them to find books that will change their life in some way.  Just a small handful of life changing books will do for now...

     Here is my challenge:
     What are the books that changed your life?  When we talk about finding books that matter to students, what books mattered to you?  In your life, which books somehow shaped your thinking, for the worse or for the better?  In the spirit of 2014, here are fourteen books that changed my life, in no particular order.

1.  A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
2.  The Outsiders, by SE Hinton
3.  Native Son, by Richard Wright
4.  The Value Tales biography series, by Spencer Johnson
5.  Island of the Skog, by Steven Kellogg
6.  The Babysitter Club Books, by Ann M Martin
7.  Christopher Pike mystery novels
8.  Snowflakes Fall, by Patricia MacLachlin and Steven Kellogg
9.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
10.  Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume
11.  Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
12. From Here to Eternity, by James Jones
13. Savage Inequalities, by Richard Kozol
14.  I'll Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch

     Some of you are probably thinking, "Really?  That book?"  Or perhaps, "What is that book?"  The truth of the matter is that books pick us.  If we read them at times in our life where, for some reason, we read closely and look for deeper meaning, they will stay with us.  The list above seems like a random mix of children's books and adult novels.  In the list are books that made me cry, rather hard and sometimes in public.  Books that introduced me the themes that I had not experienced in my own life.  Books that I related to wholeheartedly.  Books that made me see perspectives of others.  Books that I devoured and made me the reader (and person) that I am today.

     When we do finally talk about close reading, and what it is, remember what it is not.  It is not test prep.  It is making our students see that books can be thought about, and new ideas can be had from them.  Books can change your life.

     What books have changed yours?

1 comment:

  1. Such a great post, Leah! We do need kids to find their books that matter! :-)
    Some of mine are The Giver, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and Testing is Not Teaching.
    Great way to think about close reading as we move into the new year!

    BigTime Literacy