Returning To Reading Research

Posted on July 26, 2018


I finally come back round to my reading research. Several months ago, I wrote:

This is Part 1 of a Multi-Part Series on Reader’s Workshop in Senior ELA12. Future posts will narrate our journey through the unit, highlights and insights from the journey, and include explanations of how I model The Reading Life for my students as they become strong, independent readers who know how to find books they like and become a caring circle of readers, in the  classroom and in the community.

And then my attention went elsewhere.

And now it’s some months later, and I want to start again.

I apologize, dear reader, for my inconsistency.

If you’re still with me, I’ll try to pick up where I left off.

Where was I?

I climb the stairs to the library, set the crate of materials in front of my chair, and begin to explore the artifacts I’ve gathered over the year. I find: several of my own notebooks, where I do the activities, exercises, and record-keeping that I require of students; survey results; field notes; articles; classroom library records; student reflections; # of books read by student and by class; notes from PD sessions I attended on reading; and some other documents related to the Text Set that is part of the senior research project.

Though I’ve lost the original ideas and feelings that spurred me to start writing this series, a couple of hours looking at the artifacts gives me a renewed interest in the subject. I can see that many things I learned about ninth grade readers holds true with the seniors, as with other students whose ELA classrooms allow them to choose what to read, and about whom many volumes have been written in English Education circles. I don’t want to cover the same ground, so I am looking for new angles as I read, recall, and wonder, “What happens when Reader’s Workshop replaces whole-class reading in Senior ELA?”

As I put my work aside for the day, I remember that I have two other types of artifacts that are in electronic form: a recorded interview with a student, and the assignment documents that are stored in the Google classroom. I realize that I want to transcribe the interview and create a folder of student documents (who have given me permission to include their work in my own) to get a broad overview of all of the artifacts I’ve collected. Perhaps the interview or an assignment will suggest an angle for me to explore to find answers to my question.

One discovery I can share is from my own experience. Before my school district adopted a curriculum that requires independent reading, I didn’t read YA books or much fiction at all. I read a LOT of professional literature, politics, history, memoir, science–a steady diet of nonfiction. Although I felt jealous of other teachers who could allow their students choice as readers whenever they talked or wrote about the conversations they had with students: a student loved/hated a book or part of it; they recommended a book to a student, which started a trend of other students in the class reading it; they discovered a new writer because a student recommended a book to them–I didn’t read YA, because I knew that my students weren’t going to read the assigned literature AND other books. Many didn’t even read what was assigned. Why should they? Enough people read it that those who wished not to could learn about it second-hand and pass the class. Whole-class literature study didn’t create a vibrant reading culture in the classroom–so I didn’t need to read YA.

But now?

Are you kidding? I’ve read three YA titles in the last 2 days! Now that I know that I need to have titles to recommend when the opportunity arises with a student, I read YA about half the time–and when I’m reading “grown-up” books, I now read more fiction. Like the students, I’ve increased my range. Keeping a “Finished Book List” shows me what genres, eras, authors, etc, I’m choosing, and because I want to model a wide range of books, I’ve sought out books that I wouldn’t have read, otherwise. I am amazed at the number of history and historical fiction books I’ve read–because I discovered books in verse. Of the three YA books in verse I read most recently, two are historical fiction and one is history, created in concert with a museum. Likewise with graphic novels, memoir, and history.

“What happens when Reader’s Workshop replaces whole-class reading in Senior ELA?” One thing that happens is that the teacher’s reading life is transformed. A serious, “grown-up-nonfiction” reader learns to embrace YA and graphic texts for her students’ sake–and it helps her create a vibrant reading community that’s alive with meaningful conversations about books.

YA Titles I’ve Recently Enjoyed:

Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color by Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson (history in verse)

Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson (history in verse)

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth (fiction)

Full Cicada Moon by Margaret Hilton (historical fiction in verse)

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King (fiction)

“Grown-up-Nonfiction” I’ve Recently Enjoyed:

When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Asha Bandele and Patrisse Cullors

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

by Ibram X. Kendi

I encourage you to purchase your books from independent bookstores, like this one, just opened by a friend of a friend! The Brain Lair Bookstore, South Bend, IN. PLEASE say “NO” to Amazon. Thank you.

This is Part 2 of a Multi-Part Series on Reader’s Workshop in Senior ELA12 that explores the question, “What happens when Reader’s Workshop replaces whole-class reading in Senior ELA?”

Part 1 can be found here.