Please join me in welcoming today’s guest blogger, Sue Johnson. Sue is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher at Washington Middle School in Olympia, Washington. Here is what Sue has to say about herself:
I am a teacher.
I wonder what tomorrow will bring.
I see hope in my student’s faces.
I want my own adult kids to be happy.
I pretend I can sing.
I worry about getting it all taught.
I cry when Charlotte dies and Wilbur carries on.
I understand learning can be hard work.
I say “I Love You!”
I dream of sandy beaches at the OBX.
I try to do my best.
I hope I make a difference.
I am a teacher.
“A book is a dream that you hold in your hands” – Neil Gaiman. Hundreds of books fill my classroom library after twenty years of teaching and, admittedly, a bit of a book buying addiction. Students and colleagues laugh at my burgeoning book baskets, but I just smile as kids from other rooms tip-toe in and ask if I have a title currently not available in the school library. Borrowing is always allowed. There is no fancy check-out program, just the honor system. Eventually the majority of books come back, sometimes several years later when a younger sibling has my class. But that’s why the books are there, to be borrowed, to be read. The more accessible the books the better! The class Mature Bookshelf requires a parent permission slip and contains books that may have topics like drug use, sex, under-age drinking, etc. Many 8th graders are ready for those tougher topics and I want to provide books that expose them to a bigger world, yet respect family choices. It’s difficult keeping the cart full.
We read every day at the beginning of class for about twenty minutes. Our class is fifty-eight minutes. It is worth every minute. Students need to read more in order to improve as readers. They are reading from books, magazines, off e-readers and their phones. I read when they read. Sometimes I’m reading a “teacher strategy” book, sometimes a student recommended book, and sometimes my own free choice. Students know I value reading, even if I’m not wearing my Read More Books t-shirt.
“Wow! We choose our own books to read?” or “Ms. J, have you read this book? You really should. It’s kind of like _______.” or “Get this book Ms. J. I bet other kids would read it.” You can bet with those comments the titles go on my to-be-purchased list. After their reading, students respond in journals showing how they connect to the plot, character, and setting. They “notice and note” what’s happening in their books, look deeper and read closer. This transformation occurred last year after attending workshops, reading books and following tweets by Donalyn Miller (Book Whisperer, Reading in the Wild), Penny Kittle (Book Love), Kylene Beers and Robert Probst (Notice and Note), and Smokey Daniels (Texts and Lessons for Content-Area Reading). My first step was the Read 40 Books Challenge explained in Donalyn Miller’s Book Whisperer. Last year about half of my 90 students met the challenge. Currently, at the halfway point in the year, 12 of my 145 students have already read 40 books!
Booktalks and Book Trailers spread the word on new, popular and/or “must-read” books. The internet provides an extensive choice of Book Trailers, but even better are student-made Book Trailers. Kids sell books to the other kids. The books from student-led Booktalks or Book Trailers disappear off the shelf. Sharing what we are reading with others increases interest and amount of reading by everyone.
There is no magic answer to the question, “Middle school readers, how do you keep the passion alive?” Our mission is to keep encouraging, continue modeling and remain open-minded in the ways we expose and share reading with kids. “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone is thinking. – Haruki Murakami