The debate around the use of novels in English classes of all age groups is at least twenty years old, but it remains unresolved, continually bubbling up in blog posts and conversations among a wide range of concerned educators: what do we do about the whole class novel? In this post, I analyze the state of current teaching trends with regard to novels, and offer two propositions for moving the debate forward.
Educators and others who think about social issues--I can use some help: I got into a conversation with students in English class today about sexism, brought up by a pattern (out of the classroom, but among our students) of MS boys making critical comments about girls' bodies. In the course of an energized, basically positive conversation, some boys brought up that girls can be sexist, too. In a moment that I could have handled better, I argued against this, instead of probing further.
Many of our struggling readers did not grow up with a consistent reading ritual at home; instead, they were exposed to books mostly in school. What was that context like for them?
One of the most fundamental routines in an English or any literacy-based classroom is the practice of reading. So what do we do when we give students a reading task, but we see that real reading is not happening? I'm talking about those moments when it seems like we're stuck repeating directions, redirecting off task behavior, and even struggling to stay focused ourselves. Maybe it's just a wonky moment--or maybe it's time to step back, evaluate what's really going on, and change course.
"I know from personal experience (growing up Jewish in a non-Jewish community) that school around this time can feel isolating," writes Ariel Sacks.
It's the start of class, and the opening task is to read quietly. "Can I go to my locker to get my book?" a student asks. I give a disapproving look, because she should have her book with her, but I say yes. I have no extra copy to offer, and I don't want her to spend the period unproductive. Another student asks to get her book from her locker. I'm irritated, but I say yes.
"If both of your parents are immigrants, do they deport you too, or do you get put into a foster home?" one of my middle school students asked yesterday afternoon. "I've asked this to some other teachers, but I still don't know the answer," she added. It had been on her mind all day. I've taught through four presidential elections. This one feels in no way normal.
What can we do to move forward in the moment when our agenda and a student's agenda seem to clash?
How exactly do we help students to be able to read complex texts on their own? Do we give them texts that are well above their reading levels and apply as much scaffolding as we need to get students through it? Or do we meet readers where they are with more accessible text selections first and build their independent reading skills?
In the launch of her new blog, Ariel Sacks explains what she means by teaching for the whole story and why she's doing it.