It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts
My summer PD plans got off to an early start on Sunday(we have three more weeks of school, here in New Jersey!) when NCTE’s summer book club kicked off with its first discussion. We are reading Jennifer Beuhler’s Teaching Reading With YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives, which is a fascinating analysis of how we can teach YA lit in meaningful ways. Buehler calls for the “development of a YA pedagogy – one that places student motivation at the center of our teaching while upholding the goals of rigor and complexity” (pg. 8), and her book is a road map for how to get there.
We read chapters 1 and 2 for this week’s discussion, and here are some ideas I tagged:
In the real world, readers are always blending their personal response to a book with their analytic understanding of the text. Readers also instinctively search for connections between books and real-world contexts…As teachers of YA Lit, we can foster complex reading experiences and promote autonomy if we devise classroom tasks that invite students to engage in these forms of blending and connecting. We don’t have to create new tasks to achieve this goal. Instead, we can recast and reinvent what we already do. (pg.11)
This idea of recasting and reinventing is one that both interests and excites me. I love working on teaching efficiency – i.e. taking a fresh look at my teaching practices through the lens of new thinking (especially thinking grounded in current research) and reshaping and refining what I do. So, I cannot wait to read ahead for Jennifer’s guidance in this process of recasting and reinventing.
We must establish contexts for reading that challenge students to be purposeful and intentional in their choices. One way to do this is to foreground meta-level questions about why we read. When we invite students to read for the same reasons that real readers do…they become more capable and committed to reading. Students can develop agency and autonomy as readers only if we give them room to shape the course of their reading. (pg.11)
Like other teachers, I come at establishing contexts for reading through mini lessons, modeling, and our classroom discussions about shared reading. I focus on strategies with my sixth graders, but I would love to learn more about how to deepen those meta-level questions in ways they will find meaningful and habitual.
Complexity can be found in the text – in the overall quality of an author’s writing and thinking. But complexity can also be found in what readers do with texts…This means that as we evaluate texts for their inherent measures of complexity, we also need to explore how and why texts become complex for readers.
Because YA lit can speak honestly and directly to teenagers, and because the issues the books explore lend themselves to discussion and debate, it’s easy to see why YA lit is ideally suited to the task of teaching teens how to find and make complexity. (pg.29 & 30)
Some of my sixth graders still read quickly and for plot. In fact, I would say that this is the natural inclination of most of my sixth graders. So, getting them to slow down and think deeply about a character’s journey through a story line deliberately plotted out by an author would, indeed, add complexity to their reading tasks, and a greater seriousness to the way they went about their reading. Here, again, I have much to learn.
Buehler also makes distinctions between “complexity of style: (language, structure, stylistic elements) and “complexity of substance” (character, setting, literary devices, topics and themes, how the book is put together), and walks us through the process of looking for these in two books – Matt de la Pena’s We Were Here, and A. S. King’s Ask The Passengers. This was a fascinating exercise in close reading in its best sense; it allowed me insight into the goals Buehler believes we can achieve with our students:
When we teach students to make nuanced judgments about complexity, we help them better understand what different books can give them. By providing them with a framework for thinking about complexity, we empower them as readers. We equip them with tools that will serve them in their reading lives for the long run. (pg.49)
Our task this week was to take what we had gleaned from those first two chapters and contribute to the following:
Week 1: Make
This week we’re going to create a curated list of YA novels with rationales for why they are complex texts. These lists may prove useful if you choose to use any of these novels in your class and are asked to justify your selection. Please share the title, author, and a few sentences explaining why a YA text of your choosing should be considered complex. Don’t worry if someone else has already listed a title you were considering; either add to their rationale or write your own. Multiple perspectives will strengthen our understanding of any of these books. Consider the elements listed on p. 37 in crafting your rationale:
- Complexity of Style—language, structure, other stylistic elements
- Complexity of Substance—character, setting, literary devices, topics and themes, how the book is put together
Here’s my contribution:
Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart. I chose this as the first read aloud of the school year because I knew that my students would love everything about this story and that it would be the perfect way to launch our reading community. Joseph Johnson has just been orphaned when the book begins, and his beloved pony Sarah, all he has left of his own the world, has been stolen away. Joseph sets out to find her, a journey that is filled with unexpected twists and turns and more heart ache. He comes to realize, of course, that his search for Sarah is really a search to find love and meaning in the world after so much sorrow and loss.
Complexity of style: Although the story is told in what seems to be a straightforward style with Joseph narrating the events in a chronological order, there are many flash backs for the reader to navigate through to piece together why Joseph is recalling this particular memory at this particular time. Many of these flashbacks are in the form of things Joseph remembers his parents advising him, and the language of these quotes is formal, deeply figurative, and of a particular voice.
Complexity of substance: Joseph encounters a Chinese boy his age, who cannot speak a word of English. He, too, is in search of someone – his father, lost somewhere among the Gold Rush mines. Ah-Kee is subject to the racism of the times, which Joseph must both console him as well as defend him from. Other thematic issues such as courage in the face of loss, self sacrifice and keeping the faith when things seem without hope are also explored. The time frame and setting of the book (1890, in the mountains and cowboy towns of Washington State) are also important in understanding the text and making sense of the characters and events.
I’m looking forward to learning about new titles to add to my must read/must have in the library lists.