A student asked me today, “When are we going to start that Poetry unit?”
I have more than once looked at the cardboard box of Grade 10 poetry textbooks and asked the same question. The box sits neglected in an my otherwise abandoned classroom as I have spent the entire semester teaching in the library or computer labs.
“But we would have to stop what we are doing,” I replied, “and I like what we are doing.”
These are the times I have to remind myself that it is not so much about what text we are reading, it is about about what we are doing with the text we are reading. The “what” we read is secondary to the “how” or “why”. In Language Arts the “ends” is the “means.”
Students need to read some every day, and write some every day, be accountable to someone every day. The formula seems intuitive enough to me.
“Schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.” — Jean Piaget
I really see the “new” gains made by this simple formula with this semester’s Grade 10 class.
For this class, as any other, success emphasized the following: individual work habits, homework, home reading, school reading, keeping track of missing or late assignments, attendance, accounting for reading/homework witnessed by parents, and keeping extracurricular coaches “in the loop.” By Christmas break, 14 students will have read over 80 books.
Students have overwhelmingly been proud of the books they have read, proud of the writing they have done. They wrote about themselves, other texts, and the world. They picked their own texts, they selected their own focus questions, they developed their own voices.
This class was special, we were in a library every day. We surfed the net and wrote to a blog, every day. I enjoyed reading responses to dozens of different books by emerging and maturing voices. With the iblogs, I checked that progress every day.
We put our feet up if they were clean, we traded in a lousy book for a better one. We read and wrote as much or as little as we were able. We took time to read, time we tracked in detail every day.
This is the first class I have ever required students to have a Public Library card. Radical stuff.
This is the first class where every student kept a “Reading Log” and I insisted that parents and teachers sign as witness every time the student read. I even invented an arbitrary calculation: “Home Reading Ratio”. Students divided the number of pages read by the number of pages read at home.
I am embarrassed to postulate that I may have students, in older grades, that have NEVER read a book that the class has not read together. I will never say that about these readers.
Each student received a tonne of time to read, a tonne of time to connect. Precious gifts.