I spend too many hours thinking of my students love (or lack of love) of reading. Of how the things that we do together hopefully is enough to sustain that love for words. That this year is another part of their journey as readers, as humans who know that reading can unlock the powers of the universe. And so I think of what is ahead. Of whether they are truly “Wild readers” to quote Donalyn Miller. Whether they have the stamina they need to be successful in college to quote Penny Kittle. And whether the type of literacy instruction they will receive in the years to come will allow them to continue to love books. To still read something that they choose. To still see themselves as children who read for fun, not by force.
Today, as I sat next to a friend who teaches high school English, we discussed the concept of the whole class novel. Something I have opened up for discussion here. There are districts that mandate that the whole class novel is used for all students, no matter their comprehension ability, which is another blog post in itself, and yet, it reminds me that not everyone works in an environment that trusts its teachers to teach all students, no matter their ability.
So if you teach the whole class novel, whether by choice or force, there is a very little tweak that may make it accessible to all students. Because if we want the whole class novel to be a vessel for deeper literature conversation and yet we have students who cannot access the text, then we must find a way for them to be successful. The idea is simple, really. Create different pathways to access the text by allowing students to select which method they will use. Those pathways can be:
- I choose to read it on my own, ready to come to discussion. This is the most common pathway of doing a whole class novel but it cannot be the only one. Think of how many students where this act would be impossible. Where they would rather defiantly not read then even try.
- I choose to read the book with a partner and we discuss as we read. Sometimes when we struggle all we need is a trusted adviser to bring us through the hard parts. We see this happen in our classrooms all of the time; students reaching out for help, and then going to back to their task renewed. Why not let them do that formally?
- I choose to have it read aloud with the teacher in a small group. Sometimes we need an adult voice to carry students through, other times you just need a community of readers to help you process the text, let alone the finer nuances behind the words. Having a teacher at the helm and making it a read aloud means that it has no longer become an exercise of decoding, but rather one of comprehension.
- I choose to listen to the text. I know some frown upon the use of audio books in our literacy classrooms, but they can be the game changer for some of our most disillusioned non-reading students. If our goal is to use a whole class novel for students to think deeply about a text, then why not remove the barrier of the text itself? If a child cannot read a text then the instruction of how to read it should happen with a text that they can access, not something that is far beyond their current skill level.
That’s it really. Offering student choice in how they access the learning we must do, allows them to find success even within the most mandated curriculum. We must remember our task at hand; to have rich discussion, so let’s make sure that all of our students can be a part of that, not just the ones that have mastered the act of reading at a certain level.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.