This semester students in READ 6310 were asked to contribute a blog post.
By B. Leal
Too often, teachers complain that their students don’t want to read or do the work in their classroom. Taking a closer look at the curriculum we are required to teach should give us a clue as to why this may be. At the middle school level, we are told what we should be doing from the beginning to the end of the six weeks for the entire year. We are required to use the district approved literature book which contains excerpts of stories along with questions and worksheets. Sure, teachers incorporate some hands on activities, but the majority of those concentrate on STAAR ready questions. There is no room for our students to enjoy what they read.
After reading several articles and a few books that stress using reader response to literature as a way to teach, I decided to start implementing it in my classroom. For the first time, my students had a choice on what to read – something they are not used to at all. It was so overwhelming; I had to narrow the choices for them. We settled on Just Another Hero by Sharon M. Draper. I did not create worksheets for the book, or make them take the dreaded Reading Renaissance test (although they could take the test if they chose to). Instead, I preceded the first chapter with “Let’s try something new….” We made journals where they responded after every chapter. They even turned half of my room into a Facebook page where they would post as different characters. For the first time this year, my classroom was filled with discussions. Not just superficial discussions about their favorite characters or what happened in the book; but discussions about character decisions, how they would change the book, and how it connected to their lives. They asked endless questions throughout the book, from each other, from themselves, and from me.
They enjoyed the reading so much, that they asked if we could continue with our literature response notebooks with another book. For the first time since I became a reading teacher, my students were asking me to let them read. So we moved on to Tears of a Tiger by the same author. They wrote letters to a character. They wrote diary entries. They made character dolls to present to the class. They wrote a letter to the author, and some even wanted to know if they could mail them. They created story rays for the chapters. They created collages with words and pictures to represent the chapters. They even worked on an extra chapter for the book with partners. They commented on how much writing they were doing in a reading class. Most importantly, they began to admit that reading could be fun when we were not concentrating on the dreaded STAAR test.
My students are enjoying reading for the first time in a long time, and they are thinking critically on their own. This is what choice has done for my students. They decide what they will read and how they will respond. It was hard at the beginning – hard for me to give up some control, and hard for them to deal with having a choice for the first time.