I love reading! I have been reading since I was two when I used to carry a dictionary around and ask my mother to read the words I found in it and reading for content since at least four when I would summarize newspaper articles for my mother and stepfather and started reading novels of sometimes 400+ pages when I was seven. I spent most of my childhood no more than a few doors down from the library in both towns I grew up in in Ohio, and my first real job was at the age of 12 volunteering to help the librarians with putting books, magazines, and videos back in order, reshelving materials, and running the summer reading program. It’s no surprise that I like to pass my love for books onto the children I teach.
I have never really been happy with just reading from the textbook from the North American program that my school uses. To supplement it, I included additional books for free reading and the full text of what ever excerpt we were reading that week, if my school had it (far more often than not, it does since our lending library here is amazing!). This year, I was able to run novel studies where my students read whole books and discuss them (I have student discussion leaders who ask the other students questions and discuss their opinions of the characters and events happening in the assigned portion of the book for the week) and have a big project or activity to end the book with, such as creating a game based on the book or putting on a play based on the story. I base the skills they are supposed to be learning by having them apply it to the novels they are reading such as comparing and contrasting (watching Babe and comparing the characters and their traits to the ones they read about in Charlotte’s Web). We also run a weekly survey where the students make predictions about what will happen next or how they feel about a character or an event and post the results for them to see. I have found that they have been responding much better, despite the fact that these are the same books that would be read in school by a native speaker in the same grade as they are in. They are also responding more positively to reading and are choosing more challenging books when they check out books from my school’s lending library. Even a student with the weakest English skills is getting quality stories of over 150 pages each week, in addition to the 120-or-so-page book he is assigned to read over the course of a month.
I have a class librarian who is in charge of making sure books are returned on time. My students are always asking when they can have a turn at this job…it is the job that has the most rigorous interview, asking questions from what they would do if someone returned a damaged book to what is their favorite book and why. This person helps select the books for our DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) box for when we have DEAR time at the beginning of class sometimes.
During DEAR time, I also read a book from the DEAR box (I choose two or three to go in), to help set an example that reading is enjoyable…sometimes I get so into my book, I start laughing and my students ask me to read the section that made me laugh aloud to them. Often, when I finish a book, one of them asks if they can read it and none of them have disliked the ones I have read. They also show appreciation for my taste in books by asking me for recommendations when they are looking for something good to take home from the library.
They have gone from wanting to check out books that were RL2 (grade 2 level) to regularly checking out books that have won Newbery awards or honors or are otherwise interesting and engaging stories that challenge their reading abilities.
I also read aloud to them. Sometimes I have something that I incorporates a theme that we are covering in class, like teasing and bullying in The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes or Christmas with Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Sometimes I spot a book on a library shelf (picture books usually) that I read to them while they finish signing their library cards for the week. If we don’t have time because they took a long time packing up, they often groan and exclaim things like “Not fair!”.
They are also very dedicated to straightening up the school’s much used library and challenge themselves to put the books the right way in the right place (the same thing that inspired my first job). On Friday, one of my students was putting the book The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo back in its place when I asked her to give it to me. I exclaimed how much I loved the book, and said that when the shelves were completely straightened, I would read a little bit aloud to them. We didn’t have time, but they made me promise that I would start reading it for them on Monday. I have read other Newbery books to my older students: Charlotte’s Web, A Cricket in Times Square, and Sarah Plain and Tall…but I have never seen kids get so absorbed in a book the way they have with this one. It’s a fairy tale about a mouse, some soup, a spool of thread, and a princess. Without giving away the story, that’s all I can say. I absolutely love this story and it’s on my list of books that I ate up in under 36 hours. There are quite a few. On Monday, I read the first three chapters to them before they started their work. Today (they have Tuesdays off), I was worried that the 25 pages I had selected to read was too much for them, but when I stopped, they begged, literally begged for more. And even after I read two more chapters, they begged for more.
Today, I read aloud over 50 pages of a novel to a classroom of 10- and 11-year olds who were still groaning because I had stopped reading (being as it was time to go home and my voice was gone to boot). One girl who is self-conscious about her artwork, sketched a picture of the main character while she listened. Another who has lower English skills than the others retold what had happened up to the point where I stopped two days ago. Even my boys were asking me to read more pages.
It is perfect for reading aloud as each chapter ends with a cliffhanger and there are asides where the author speaks directly to the audience and wonderful pencil illustrations to accompany the text. The story is engaging and full of opportunities to act out scenes and to dramatize your voice, such as imitating an angry human king who hates rodents or a vain French mouse mother who swears to have no more babies because it ruins her looks.
The Tale of Despereaux won the 2004 Newbery Medal, the highest award given to children’s literature each year. Of all the children’s books which have been given either the Newbery Medal or a Newbery Honor, this book is among my favorites.
I believe that the power of reading has caused great growth in my children’s English abilities and confidence. I think that for an English program to be successful here, it should recognize how important of a role reading authentic materials can take, whether it’s individual reading, novel studies, reading aloud, or doing a play. It’s a great way to boost pronunciation, word decoding, phonics, intonation, critical thinking skills, vocabulary, and self-esteem. I am lucky that my school gives me a lot of freedom to develop my curriculum in a way that I feel is effective, as long as it meets the scope and sequence that the students have to achieve in order to progress into the next grade level.
The quote “Good children’s literature appeals not only to the child in the adult, but to the adult in the child” comes to mind when I think of my classroom full of now avid readers.
Check out Esme Raji Codell’s website, Planet Esme, for great tips to incorporate reading and literature into your classroom.