Sunday, February 3, 2013

Happy Teacher Dance -- Senior Discovers Books!

One of the exciting and frustrating things about teaching all semester classes is January and February. Saying goodbye to one group of students, introducing yourself to a new group; writing and administering and grading finals while planning first-week activities; finding the time to put the first semester into perspective while focusing on the new's daunting, and I've never done it completely successfully.

This year is no different. I tried something new this year, and I was eager to see what it meant. We constructed an attitude chart three times during the semester -- the first few days, at midterm and the last day. I goofed, because there wasn't enough time for students to reflect on the new data during the final exam. I'll do better this semester, and then the lesson will be lost. So, at the beginning of the semester, my kids told me what they thought of reading:

We reflected on the data, and what it meant. I was interested especially in one boy who proudly slapped his sticky under "HATE" and let me know, with words and body language and unwillingness to choose a book, that he was a hater. We had a great relationship, and he was never a behavior problem. He just let me know he wasn't going to be a pushover...but then, neither am I. I offered my 'tried-and-true' books: Chris Crutcher, Gary Paulsen, Paul Volponi, Walter Dean Myers...he rejected them all. I finally gave him a stack of 7 books and told him he would choose one of them as his first book, and then we'd go on from there. He did...he read...he wrote. He didn't love the book, but he prepared a book share over it. He complied. That's not enough if my goal is to help him change his mind about reading.

A friend suggested Ellen Hopkins' series starting with Crank. A bold move, one I wouldn't have predicted would be successful. But the friend knew something I didn't. This student has family who struggles with addiction, just as Kristina does in Crank, struggles. His Logs became insightful meditations on what he was learning about his own family dynamics by reading this book. He appreciated all the white space on the pages of poetry as a dedicated non-reader, but he GOT the story. This was his home-run book. And lucky for me there were two sequels!

At midterm, I cleaned the back white board of all stickies and gave students new ones. I am clear to them that I don't want to see them place their sticky because I want to make sure they feel comfortable being honest. My guy, tho, needed me to know some progress was being made. He asked if he could add a new category: "mraw", meaning he didn't HATE reading anymore, but was kind of indifferent. He knew it was progress, and I took it gleefully as progress.

We all kept reading. Students prepared elaborate book-sellers projects and talked to classmates about  their books. He volunteered for the first day, and talked about Crank. His presentation was confident and sure. He was at ease and honest about his interest. I encouraged him to write to Hopkins about what the book has meant...still working on that.

On the last day of the semester, during the final exam, I had students, for a third time, create our attitude charts, again anonymously. Again my student made sure I would know immediately where his sticky was. First the class chart. HATE!!

 Woohoo! One of my missions accomplished. I still have one student who doesn't like reading, but even that student could have moved from "HATE" or "hate" -- I'd like to think so. Together we worked on reading and finding books. Students DID grow as readers and thinkers, and they could see their own growth.

You can't see my guy's sticky from this shot, but it's under 'like' now...He found his book. He found his author. He's learned to write about his books authentically. He knows how to talk about books that matter to him. He is now a reader!

And his last message to me about the impact of the class was there, on the board, under 'like':

In case you can't read: " I like it (reading) as long as it's Ellen Hopkins. Awesome, addictive author." Now, technically, this would put him in the 'OK if I choose' category for his new attitude, but I'm doing the 'happy teacher dance' thinking of the miracle I was allowed to witness last semester....Wonder which student will provide me with my last miracles in the classroom?

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