Teacher Tuesday

Allow me to introduce Cindy Minnich, another teacher friend from the Twitterverse. Cindy teaches at Upper Dauphin Area High School, Elizabethville, PA, working with 9th and 12th graders. She’s passionate about rekindling the love of reading in her high schoolers — wait till you hear what she has to say. But, first, we’ll take a peek at her past:

    Cindy in fourth grade – before braces and glasses
  •   Favorite school lunch as a kid: beef turnovers
  •  Best friend in grade school: Dyanna
    • Times you were the new kid in school: My sophomore year of high school

    • Teacher that inspired you to stretch:

    Dr. Dearbaum in second grade – I wanted so much to do better every day for her because she saw promise in me that I didn’t know was there.

  • Mrs. Parnell in high school – I appreciated her patience and encouragement as a student and have worked hard to emulate it as a teacher.
    • The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved

    • I could never manage to get braids or pigtails or barrettes to stay in. Or perms for that matter. My hair was destined to be stick straight. (It doesn’t seem all that important right now, but it drove me nuts back then…)

Now, let’s talk about connecting kids and books. 
Cindy, you are one of the few high school teachers I’ve interviewed and you said you were concerned that some of your ninth graders come to you and they haven’t read a book for fun in years. Why do you think that happens?

While it seems less important for me as my goal is to give their reading lives a jump start and get them thriving as readers, I realize that this is important information for the teachers and parents of students who aren’t to this point yet. Many of my students report being busier – more activities translates into less time to read. Buckling down on school work with more difficult classes and less study hall time also translates to less time to read. Other students said they just didn’t know about books that were out there that they would like to read. Several mentioned the distractions of social media and texting and hanging out with friends as reasons why they were not reading much once they hit seventh or eighth grades.

You told me you feel strongly about “feeding the desire to read.” What are some of the strategies you use to do this with your high schoolers?

If I was writing this without any outside help from my students my answer would simply be this:  I read, I
share what I’m reading, I booktalk, and I do my best to hook my students up with books they will like.

What made me smile is that they told me this isn’t everything I do. Here’s the rest of it in their words:
* You read aloud from the best parts of books to make us want to read them.
* You make sure there are books everywhere.
* You ask us questions about what we like so you can give us the right book.
* You ask us about the books we’re reading and talk to us about them.

What kinds of outside resources, if any, do you use to encourage your high schoolers to read for pleasure (Skype, author websites, guest speakers)?

I share book trailers (both in class and in online class spaces) and information from meeting authors or interacting with them on Twitter. I share blog posts and I have had authors Skype with my classes. I was blessed to have Gae Polisner agree to come to my school and spend the day with my students. Sharing information about what new books are coming out and (bonus!) being able to share ARCs with them are huge as well.  

How do you figure out which book to connect with which student?

I start by asking them about the best book they’ve ever read. Then their favorite movies and TV shows. I ask them what they are in the mood for reading. Their answers and reactions to the books I pull off the shelves for them are often enough to give me a good idea of what books might work. But I only have the books I know and am familiar with to make selections from so I really need to be reading and know what’s available. 

Can you share an anecdote (or two!) of a successful connection?

Most of my book stories start with me asking students questions back by the bookshelves in my classroom. The details are not necessarily as important as the outcomes.

One conversation with an honors student who had been a reader (though had found that she wasn’t reading much lately) absolutely fell in love with books again after getting to read the Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.  

Another who decided to take the plunge and see what I might be able to offer him to read picked up Leviathan, read the entire series, finished the Gone series after that. 

He came to me one afternoon from study hall and asked me for another book series to start. He was so sincere when he told me how surprised he was to be reading. I’ve lost track of how many books he’s gone through now, but he just left for a three day weekend with Legend.

Gae Polisner was moved to tears when another student told her on her visit that hers (The Pull of Gravity) was the first book he’d ever wanted to read. He hasn’t looked back.

How do you show your students your own love of reading?

I think the most obvious thing I do is to talk about my reading life. They see me reading. They hear about talk me reading. I have
books stacked everywhere. They know that the first question they will probably hear from me when I see them in the hallway is, “How are you?” – but the second is nearly always, “What have you been reading lately?” I’m predictable.

You’ve shared some ways you’ve addressed this problem. Do you have some ideas about what schools could do to address this diminished desire for recreational reading? What are those ideas?

There are a few things that can be done that don’t really take much time or money to implement. While it’s important for the English teachers and librarians to be well-read and for them to be making book recommendations, it is equally as important for other subject area teachers to be sharing their book recommendations. Share a page or two from a book or magazine article that is relevant to what you’re studying. Give booktalks on books that relate to the ideas and events you’re studying. Share your reading lives with your students. None of it has to take all that long – a book talk here and there might only take up a couple of minutes of class time, but you’d be surprised how many students take note and seek out the books we bless.

Two other things work: building time into the day for recreational reading and making sure that students are surrounded by a wide variety of easily accessible and interesting reading materials. I know what these do for the students who spend time in my room, but I often fantasize about what would happen if this was the priority of the entire school. What if each room had its own classroom library of magazines, newspapers, and books? What if time was made in the daily school schedule for recreational reading for everyone – from students to teachers to support staff? You’d have a whole building full of reading mentors and far more time for students to fall in love with their books. It might sound expensive to get all of those reading materials, but it doesn’t have to be.  Think of how many newspapers and magazines went off to be recycled. Additionally, books can be picked up cheaply at library book sales and teachers can sign up for programs like ARCs Float On or for donations to be made for projects on sites like Donors Choose.

Why do you think it’s important for high schoolers to be reading, outside their coursework?

Recreational reading is one of the most enjoyable pastimes I can imagine. It opens up the worlds of a zillion different possibilities and perspectives to us as we turn the pages. Administrators and parents love to hear that those students who are readers tend to do better academically – they are better readers, writers, and have larger vocabularies than non readers.

What are some titles that have nudged some non-readers into being readers?

Besides the ones listed above:

The Alchemyst; 13 Reasons Why; Speak; Drama; Dear Bully; Me and Earl and the Dying Girl; A Monster Calls; Carter Finally Gets It; Everybody Sees the Ants; The Perks of BEing a Wallflower; and Black Hole Sun.

Thank you, Cindy. I had never heard of Donors Choose– you can bet I’m going to check it out! Thank you, too, for this great reflection on getting books into the hands (and hearts!) of high schoolers. 

Read Cindy’s blog or follow her on Twitter, @cbethm

No Responses to “Teacher Tuesday”

  1. gae polisner

    wonderful post on a wonderful teacher. What you see here cannot prepare you for how her students clamor for books upon their arrival in her classroom. I was there to witness it or might not believe it. 😉 And they’re as anxious to talk about them after, as they are to read them.