Saturday, August 22, 2015

What Does it Mean to "Teach" a Novel? (Part 3)

I have finished roughly half the books I have started in my lifetime. Don't judge me. If I had to read one for school, I read it. However, once my time truly became my own, I was more selective. I'm facing a bookshelf in my living room, and I can see at least ten dusty bookmarks sticking out of novels, essay collections, and should reads like books on parenting, marriage, and faith.

When my students have the opportunity to choose a text for independent reading, they very often come to me a chapter or two in and say, "This just isn't doing it for me." No problem. Go find a book that grabs you.

Whole-class reads are a different matter. A senior once told me, "This is the first time I actually read a whole book." Blink, blink. How had she made it that far without a cover-to-cover read? Was business, engagement, laziness, or accountability to blame?

If reading is medicine, no student--engaged or not--will want to swallow it. How do we engage teens and build skills without torturing them? This post is all about the controversial idea of not teaching the entire book. Consider the thoughts of these teacher-authors and comment!

Making Meaning with Melissa
This is sometimes controversial when I bring it up to my department, but I don't always teach the complete novel.  I have an essential question or theme that I focus on, and I like to focus on key passages to discuss/teach in class.  I encourage the students to read the whole novel independently, but I only teach those focus passages.  When I do this, I like to use my close reading units, like this one for To Kill a Mockingbird, focusing on the theme of courage.  This unit has six passages with close reading directions for each, a courage chart with directions, and an essay prompt, plus student and teacher models.  Students like "reading" the novel this way and often end up finishing the novels.

With my upper middle schoolers,  I have the students read the whole novel in parts outside of class. I assign basic comprehension or skill practice questions with their reading at night, mostly as an accountability check. In class, we spend a lot of time going really deep into a few passages in the novel, and I generally focus all of our close reads around the same skill.

Teacher's Craft
I like to teach novels from start to finish because I like students to have the experience of finishing a novel.  In my classroom, I've seen students pick up a novel, read for the silent reading period, and then pick up a different novel the next day.  I want them to have the pride of finishing a novel.

I hit figurative language hard in my classroom because my ESL students have so much trouble with it; they either take it literally or it's completely lost on them.  It's one thing to teach what a metaphor is, but it takes it to a whole different level when students read it, analyze it, and understand it.  I use my Figurative Language Bell Ringers to introduce and reinforce figurative language before and during a novel. 

I love teaching novels because my biggest reward is hearing "I actually liked that book" when we're finished.  There's always one in the bunch.

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