For the NCTE summer book club, we are reading Jennifer Buehler’s Teaching Reading With YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives. This week we read chapters 3 and 4, and here are some ideas I tagged:
Because YA lit is accessible and because it puts so much value on existential wondering and the identity development that stirs, it serves as uniquely powerful material for drawing students into these conversations … They should also expect their thinking about the books to be deeper because of the interactions they have with their teachers and peers. They should expect that reading will allow them to reflect on their own lives, and they should expect the process of reading books in the company of others to enable them to discover more than they would on their own. (pg. 82)
When we think of books as avenues through which to access existential wondering and identity development, it elevates the very nature of the work we do in our reading workshop. If we present YA lit as an invitation to this kind of collective deep thinking at a time in their lives when they are naturally inclined to want to do such thinking, our students cannot help but want to participate and respond. Reading with this kind of intent will foster engagement and make reading workshop a place to both grow as a reader and a person – truly meaningful, long lasting work.
(From “Portraits of Classrooms” – Carrie Melnychenko high school YA Lit class): “Collectively my students want to be able to analyze something. Author’s craft. Character analysis. Something. They want the chance to chew on it for a while and rethink their thoughts on things…I’m not here to tell them what’s in it, as if here I am, the guru of the book. No, I’m going to sit back in my chair and go, what do you think? What would you do? It becomes a big conversation…That’s what they will remember.” (pg.60)
I loved this acknowledgement that kids are prepared to do so much more than we often think they are once they know that they have the freedom to ruminate over the analysis of the literary elements in a text, that there is no one answer that we are asking them to arrive at (i.e. our answer). For this to take place, we have to be willing to do what Carrie does – lay a foundation for meaningful analysis to take place, and then sit back and give our students the freedom to do the loud and messy work of articulating thoughts and shaping new thinking.
…it’s important to note that there is no one right … way of implementing YA pedagogy. Each of us must personalize our work with these books and develop an approach that is right for our context…We need a vision for teaching YA lit – and we need to figure out what we want our own version of YA pedagogy to look like. The first step is to ask ourselves what our stance toward this literature will be. (pg. 70)
This section of the book reminded me that working with YA lit requires commitment: to read widely so that our classroom libraries reflect the interests and needs of all our students, to get to know each year’s incoming class of students so that we can match them to books they will be drawn into, and to figure out that stance towards this literature that will help to shape the beginnings of important conversations.
(About the value of readalikes): The important thing about readalikes is to base suggestions in specific things the reader says about his or her enjoyment of the original book. The goal is to help the reader follow and cultivate a focused thread of connection. (pg. 77)
I loved this section of the book and the idea of “readalikes”. I work towards creating book stacks for kids based on what they have read and liked, but this practice goes one step further in encouraging students to recognize “a focused thread of connection” and build a reading life around such a connection.
We should begin by thinking broadly and strategically about the books we bring into the classroom. We need to ask ourselves, what kind of textured reading experience do I want students to have as YA readers in my class?… Which books will stimulate discussions so spirited and passionate that students look around and say, “I want to read what they’re reading”? (pg.88)
Chapter 4 ended with this directive, which is a timely one. As I begin to box up our classroom library for the summer, I hope to do an initial strategic assessment of the books we have and the books we need. In this, Jennifer Buehler asking us to be just as intentional in the selecting and purchasing of our books as we are about the teaching and thinking that will take place because of them. Perfect summer work!
Now, to this week’s NCTE book club task:
Our task this week was to take what we had gleaned from chapters three and four and contribute to the following:
- Belief that the work is important.
- Discussions that blend personal response and literary analysis.
- A sense of being known and valued.
- Collective investment in a shared experience.
Belief that the work is important. At the beginning of every year, I present five books that have been life changing. These are books that I return to time after time because there were words of wisdom or humor that I needed to read again, savor again, and think about again. I show my students marked up pages where I have written notes to myself: comments, questions, references to other texts. Through this little exercise, I hope to demonstrate that reading is an active, life long enterprise. We read to know how the world works, and how we work. Reading is, therefore, important work.
Discussions that blend personal response and literary analysis. My sixth graders come to our reading workshop with many, many personal connections, I suppose because this has been the way their elementary school teachers have most often asked them to respond to their reading. I have to make it a deliberate practice (especially at the beginning of the school year) to find a way to loop that initial conversation around literary analysis and slowly draw that in through a series of verbal cues that might sound like this:
“that’s an interesting personal memory to connect to, let’s think though about how the author used flashbacks in these scenes. How did these flashbacks of memory help us understand the character better?”
I think that a consistent repetition of cues like this help my students realize that our best book conversations are a blend of personal response and literary analysis. This is work we practice in all aspects of our reading workshop life, from independent reading to book clubs and whole class read alouds.
I’m looking forward to reading what other book club members have to say, and to assembling my own reading toolkit.