Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to School

I am a middle school teacher and this was my first week back to work. I will admit to being a little sad that my summer vacation was over, that my very own kids would be with someone else all day, but once I looked across my class and saw all of those teenagers I knew I was home again. I love my job. I mean, I get to talk to kids about books and writing all day long. Sometimes I meet a road block, one student who hates to read because his or her teacher has "made them read" certain books. This is my challenge and I take it on willingly.

Last year I began a reading requirement in my class. I know, some of you are inwardly groaning but I swear it isn't as bad as it sounds. My students are to read 25 books this year. Crazy right? Nope. 

The requirements are simple and include the students reading books from every YA genre, but with no page/length requirement except for no picture books. Why a requirement? Because research shows that the more kids read, the better readers they become. They also need to see that they are capable of reading more. One big thing that is lacking in most requirements is the element of choice. Kids need to feel in control of what they do. Although I have provided some restrictions, they still have a level of choice. 

What I LOVE about this is my involvement with my students. I have built up a classroom library, so they never have to leave the class to get a book. We do have a school library, but I tend to keep books that aren't found there. I also will recommend books to my students and hold book talks. This happens because I read all of the books I purchase for my class. Knowing that I have read these books, helps build trust between myself and the students. 

I ask the students opinion about what they have read and expect honesty. I have used journal responses and created groups on for this purpose also. What do kids like as much as being given a choice? Being allowed to give their opinion!

Lastly, since I have begun to attend YA author festivals and conferences I have access to swag. This is a term my students have learned very quickly! All of my students LOVE bookmarks and author signatures. This helps to get even the most reluctant readers excited to read books. I want to again say a special thanks to Joanne Levy for sending me a class set of signed bookmarks. The kids went WILD for them (even the boys)!

All of this is really fun and gets my teenagers reading, but writing is a whole different ball game. My goal this year is to get more writing than ever from my students. I hope to accomplish this by inviting local authors to come in to give writing lessons. If you know of any that would jump at the chance to do this, please send them my way! I will be researching the cost and availability of authors in my area (Allentown, Pennsylvania area) and presenting this info. to get approval soon. Yay!

Any thoughts on this approach? Anything teachers you know are doing to build reading and writing in their classrooms?


  1. I met a HS English teacher who lets her students beta read books. I found her on a writing site and she told me her kids love to beta and that they'd read my YA books that I need teen opinions on. I'd love it if I had an English teacher who did that. I think it gets them excited about reading something that hasn't hit the shelves yet, and that they know their opinions will help the author.

    1. I don't normally share my ARCs with my students, but I do have a few from BEA that I will be adding to my shelves. I think they'll love seeing and talking about the process a story goes through just to get on Barnes and Noble bookshelves:)

  2. When I taught special ed, I shared one of my works-in-progress with a group of three boys who HATED to read and write. Not only did they enjoy the book, but they asked if they could write sequels as an English project! I love this kind of approach!

    (By the way... I'm not local to you but do spend time occasionally in Philadelphia...If you can't find closer authors to drop by, I'd love to visit your class. I'd also be happy to send you a book or two and some swag...)

  3. Hi fellow contributor!

    I think what you posted on here is awesome and I think it's great that you're really trying to take their reading interest to heart. Unfortunately, I didn't have teachers like that when I was in middle or high school. It was more, "Learn it or don't, I don't care." That said, I think one of the best things you can do it carry reading material your students want to read. Get them interested in reading first and then things will follow. Reading swag always helps too! I commend your efforts! :)

    1. Thank you!
      I guess all of this stems from my experiences with teachers who also didn't care. There is a lot that we need to teach kids, things that we are now constantly testing. I truly believe that if you can excite kids and give them some positive interaction with adults and learning, you'll teach them more than if you just do drill and practice. I like when my kids share their ideas, rather than just drooling on their desks while I talk "at" them:)