Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Review:BOOK LOVE by Penny Kittle -- with only 46 more days left in my career.

Sometimes books find you at an opportune time in your life. This book found me too late...only 46 days left in my career, I find a professional soul-mate I would love to visit with for hours. We share a vision for what schools and teachers should be doing, and yet we came at it from different directions. We had amazing mentors early on: she worked with Don Graves and Don Murray. My teachers at Indiana University included Roger Farr and Carolyn Burke--and her mentor Kenneth Goodman called me his granddaughter. We've learned from the best, and we've both taken those lessons to heart.

We both know relationships are what matter in a classroom. Her stories of nudging students into books, and into more complex books, are fun for me, because I could tell her MY stories too. We know kids need to enjoy their books or they won't read. We both have seen too much 'fake reading' in our careers, and are savvy enough to call kids on it.

I appreciate Kittle's bravery to revamp her traditional Englishclasses to incorporate more pleasure reading...along with the required elements. Close to 20 years ago, my colleagues in my English department all incorporated a reading Friday into our classes. We modeled reading with the kids, and we began work on helping kids select books. But we kept it responded.

I decided more than 10 years ago, that wasn't going to be the route that worked for me, and I 'invented' my current class, Reading for Pleasure. This class allowed me the opportunity to concentrate solely on choice reading, reading for fun, and reflecting on reading. Hearing Kittle talk about her success, I wonder if I bailed too soon from the traditional English classes....I know our 9th and 10 grade teachers have students read during class...but not with the intentionality Kittle displays. I really like the combination of reading in class, and the reading homework she assigns. A creative way to add without overwhelming her kids.

I learned new ideas I wish I had the time to incorporate: Reading Break, similar to DEAR...I appreciated her honesty about the teachers and students who tried to subvert the school wide reading. That's kept me from pushing. She admits she teaches at a small high school -- 900, as opposed to the 2400 students we have at my school. More opportunities for resistant teachers and kids. She said her school confronts that by having administrators roam the halls and classrooms during Reading Break, and keeping everyone honest. I like her ideas.

Summer reading AND summer book groups sound awesome. Having school libraries open during the summer to allow students to check out books! Genius.

I'm trying desperately to figure out how to start using her Big Idea Books these last days -- a group of small notebooks, each dedicated to a Universal Theme, in which students can contribute reflections on their books. Kittle says she keeps hers from year to year -- what an amazing idea to connect readers over time...still thinking of how to pull this one off.

There are many ways we work in sync -- we both aim to build stamina and flexibility; we understand the importance of a 'books to read next' list. We both know we must read with our kids, read what they're reading. We both share books with passion. We build relationships with students, knowing that's the door into the books. We are both widely read, in popular books, YAL books, and professional books. We both feel the same frustration with teachers (especially English teachers) who are not readers and writers, who 'cover' a book and assume their job is finished. She highlights several difficult conversations she's had with colleagues who cling to that status quo thinking. I love her courage to confront, and can see she does it with respect and gentleness.

Those long conversations I wish we could have would be focused on some of the ways we diverge: she does conferences; I have students write and provide lots of feedback, carefully crafted to 'listen' in a different way. I read with my students; she does her conferences while they're reading. Because she does her work in the English class, she is able to have students be 'interdependent' readers, and make year-long connections among the books and the canon. 

I had a wonderful epiphany as I was reading. She brings up a concept I've heard of before: Fixed and dynamic we believe our intelligence is fixed, and if we don't get something the first time, it's just too bad...and if we don't get something the first time, we just need to try another way. She says to her kids what I've heard my experienced readers say to each other..."You just haven't found the right books yet." I had my students create a sticky-note chart of their attitudes about reading at the beginning of the semester, and then asked students to comment on the data. It was an identifiable pattern from students who'd taken my class more than once, that the kids who 'hate' or 'HATE' reading just needed to find that book. My students understand the dynamic aspects of reading and especially reading for their own pleasure.

Loved this book -- wish it'd found me sooner. Add another book to the list of 'books I wish I'd've written.' Add another author who lets me know I'm on the right path...for 46 more days.

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