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Expert Readers Wanted

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It is flu season, and on the days when I look out to see seven empty desks, I am grateful to be a language arts teacher. Reluctant to start new material when up to a third of my students are out sick, I know that no day is wasted. We can always move forward by reading and writing.

Today, my students work diligently on their book reviews. Looking at published examples from Booklist and Publishers’ Weekly, we previously developed a list of criteria we noticed professionals use like information about the author, awards the book has won, and quotes from other readers and expert reviewers. As I circulate around the room, conferring with writers, finding websites, and digging out flash drives, I hear two boys whispering in the corner,

“I need a quote for my review, but no one else in class has read, Full Tilt.”

“Ask Mrs. Miller, I bet she has read it. She’s read everything.”

I smile. Yes, I have read Neal Shusterman’s bizarre carnival story. I happily give the young reviewer a quote when he asks, and recommend two newer books by Shusterman— Everlost and Unwind. I found both books just as weird and satisfying as Full Tilt.

There are many days when I don’t get it right—my lesson falls flat, my temper is short, or I am too distracted to focus on the child standing in front of me. My students forgive me on those days because I am one of them—a reader. I rarely fail when talking to children about books and why they should read this one. It pleases me when my students consider me an expert whose opinions about books they value; I convince a lot of kids that they are experts because they read, too.

Let’s not be disingenuous here, I don’t read children’s books solely because I need to stay current for my students. I read kid lit because I like it, and my students know it. They love to chat with me about how much the filmmakers cut when adapting Inkheart, or argue about the endings of Peak and The Hunger Games, which left us wanting more. My students are unaware of what it takes to become an expert reading teacher—knowledge of best practices, classroom management, and classroom experience—skills which take on an Oz-behind-the-curtain quality in their view. But my students already know what makes you a reading expert—you read!

This is what real readers do—debate what we love and hate, question authors’ and characters’ choices, and endlessly shape our understanding of the books we read through dialogue with other readers. Our need to find others like us draws us to books in the first place, and it connects us to each other as a reading community.

The best reading teachers are teachers who read. Research substantiates this even though we need look no further than our classrooms and our hearts to know it.

At day's end, my student book club members descend on the school armed with handheld cameras. Their goal: interview teachers about their favorite books for a movie project. Students return connected to these teachers—many whom they did not know—instantly bonded by the books they shared. We may wonder if what we teach our students lasts them longer than a school year, only to be retaught and relearned again, but modeling a love of books and reading is a lesson that lasts.

I know from your posts that you are readers, too. Why not join the conversation? Submit a quote about a book or two you would like to recommend. Celebrate your reading expertise and share it with us all!

15 Comments

"the best reading teachers are teachers who read." Can't say it enough.

In kid's books right now I'm enjoying Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. In grown up books, The Beak of the Finch which is wonderous. In professional books I'm re-reading Frank Smith's The Book of Learning and Forgetting after coming off of Kelly Gallagher's Readicide.

I'd recommend them all, thanks!

I found Unwind to be one of the most powerful books I've read all year.

I've read a lot of good books this year, being on the committee that determines the shortlist for Louisiana's Young Readers' Choice Awards. The creme de la creme, though, would have to be:

Unwind, as previously mentioned
The Hunger Games
Sucks to be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (Maybe) by Kimberly Pauley
Dusssie by Nancy Springer
Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle
Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught
Amulet, Book One: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a Somewhat Brave Shrew by Ursula Vernon

In adult books, I've really enjoyed:

The Katie Chandler series by Shanna Swendson
World War Z by Max Brooks
The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

My classes are in full writing mode right now, and so much of what is true for reading also applies to writing.

Just as reading has its days of discussion and sharing, writing does, too; and the reading days of quiet solitude and independence for individual work are also there for writing.

I enjoyed this post. It speaks well about the art of teaching. Good job!

What are the books you think about long after you've read them? For me, one of those is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Recent Must-Reads:

Young Adult

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Adult

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

It must have been the inauguration because I'm on an American President’s biographies genre for the past month. Please check out my Good Reads link of what I’m currently http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/1681401

Here are my YA books listed on goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/85271?shelf=ya

My favorite quote comes from The Princess Bride, and the book is at school, so I'm probably going to butcher it.

Then Buttercup said it: "I can live without love."

This is after they've come through the Fire Swamp together, right before she leaves Westley for Prince Humperdinck. I can't BELIEVE they cut that line for the movie! It's so powerful!

I am re-reading Reading Magic by Mem Fox, and loving it yet again. I love the part where she says kids get a "nice fat bank of language" from listening to songs and rhymes and stories. I am so grateful to my early teachers who enhanced my fat bank of language with poetry we learnt by heart. It still comforts me and switches on rhythm recognitions in my head.

I just finished reading and reviewing Can You See a Little Bear? a picture book by James Mayhew and Jackie Morris, for my blog. As usual, the last picture book I read is my absolute favourite yet again - this one is a visual and auditory feast.

I've recently picked up several of Neal Shusterman and I have to say, he is an awesome writer. Unwind is my favorite book that he has written. It is indeed extremely powerful; I found myself putting the book down several times to think of today's society. It's surprising to me how much publicity this book has gotten.

Other books I recommend are:
StarDust by Neil Gaiman
Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber
Evernight by Claudia Gray
Don't Die Dragonfly by Linda Joy Singleton
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

Danielle

I loved "Ms. Hempel Chronicles," by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum. A book of connected short stories (some may call it a novel) about a middle-school teacher. Really well-written, the book is not only about a young teacher and her private-school students but also about the teacher's own family and adolescence.

Personally I'm reading The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory. My son just finished the DemiGods, the new book in the Percy Jackson series. He said it was simply too short and is now waiting for the next one too come out.

I wanted to tell you about a new site called School-ToGo.com. You can make book lists for the students you are teaching. You can create lists by subject, grade, topic, etc. Parents and students can then see the books that you are directly recommending.

I have my son use Good Reads to keep track of the books he has read. But on this site having his teacher recommend books that are his level is the best ever. Check it out. School-ToGo.com.

Thanks for this great post. Mary Lee Hahn and I have been thinking about student engagement, and how teacher's contribute to it on our blogs recently.
Hers is www.readingyear.blogspot.com, mine is www.carolwscorner.blogspot.com

Reading should not be offered to children as a chore or a duty. It should be presented to them as a precious gift. Kate DiCamillo

Some books I've read and loved in the last month:
CHAINS- Laurie Halse Anderson
WINTERGIRLS- Laurie Halse Anderson
THE JUVIE THREE- Gordon Korman
CLEMENTINE'S LETTER- Sara Pennypacker

Also some great new picture books:
SEVEN MILES TO FREEDOM: THE ROBERT SMALLS STORY
THE LAST BLACK KING OF THE KENTUCKY DERBY
HOWARD THURMAN'S GREAT HOPE

My students are racing through The Last Apprentice books, so I just finished the first one in the series of six. I can understand what they love about it, even though I did not find it quite as gripping as they did. I did just finish however, The Book Thief, a novel told by death about World War II. I found this book surprisingly haunting, especially since it was a slower read. The images still stick with me.

It's always interesting to me how certain books "sweep" through my 6th grade Language Arts class - all it takes is for someone to read a book, love it, talk about it in class (we have "Booktalk")and all fo a sudden I'm getting tons of letters about this same book. A few weeks ago it was the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series, this week the Alex Rider series seems to be the popular read.

Hey, I'll take any book that gets my kids reading, and talking about reading!

i loved ......

just listen by sarah dessen for younge adults. A really great read.

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