Mrs. Sharp Needs Your Help

The following is a guest post written by my lovely wife. She would love a little help from my Nerdy Book Club friends.

Thanks!

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My name is Alaina Sharp and I am a high school chemistry teacher.  I don’t really belong in your world.   I couldn’t tell you the difference between alliteration and allusion without looking it up on Google, and I couldn’t fathom diagramming a sentence.

But, I do have one very important thing in common with you: I love to read and I desire to share this love of reading with my students.

As I watch my students in class and talk with them, I get the funny feeling like they aren’t reading anything at all.  For the most part, they hate their assigned books in English class (and use Spark Notes to get by) and don’t read for pleasure.

I feel that reading has made a huge difference in my life.  It has made me more creative and eloquent, more experienced and imaginative, more empathetic and observant.  I think it would be a disservice for me not to pass these opportunities for growth to my students.

As a science teacher, I have to get a little creative in order to address this.  Our school offers a forty-five minute per week session on Wednesdays called “Power Play”.  During this time, students are offered remediation in classes they are currently struggling in.  Those who do not need remediation are offered an enrichment session.  This time I’m offering one called, “Reading Doesn’t Have to Be Horrible!  Come READ with me!”

To my delight, a full classroom’s worth of students signed up for the session, but now I’m stumped. After looking at the names of the students who signed up, it’s apparent that many of them are already students who love to read and wanted the time during the day to be able to do that.  I’m not sure how many non-readers I managed to snag on my list.   What do I do with these students during this time?  I am totally out of the realm of my own expertise and I could use your help.

One option I thought of was to bring a huge stack of books to the session and spend the first 20 minutes giving a short “book talk” about 5-7 of these books.  For the remaining time, I could have students choose a book that looked interesting and just read.  If they like it, they can take it with them for the rest of the week.  If they don’t like it, they can try another one.

Am I way off base here?  What else can I do or should I do? I want to do right by these kids, so any and all advice would be greatly appreciated.

22 Comments
  1. They might like to make book trailers using Animoto to share with their classmates.
    Or our elementary students love when high school students read their remembered favorite picture books to them. If the schools are not close they could do Skype read alouds. This would be fun to do during Children’s Book Week.
    How about an author Skype with one of their favorites?
    Or maybe they could set up one of those Little Free Libraries and maintain it.

  2. Have them bring in their favorite book and do a book commercial. Let it open a discussion about how they choose books. Decide if there is a book your group wants to read as a whole or independently through a book club. Add snacks or beverages to give it a mature feel. Start individual blogs where they can continue to share and make connections with each other. I also think kids are never to old for a great read aloud. This works particularly well when there is one book that everyone wants to read and will help motivate your less enthusiastic readers. I also agree with the previous comments and recommend doing the 40 book challenge from Donalyn Miller. This was my second year doing it and my kids love it. Good luck!

  3. Wow, how lucky these students are to have a science teacher with a real brain! :) I think you are on the right path with the choice and sharing idea. Students, like us, want to read what is interesting to them. I’d also suggest asking the students how this time should proceed. Do a survey or just a discussion of setting a purpose for the time and then charting their input. Maybe they want to read what’s current, maybe a book or books that others are reading that hold an interest to them. Literature Circles are always fun with the students taking ownership of the books. Read alouds with picture books that tie into a content area are fun and can lead to deep conversation of literary elements and the simple joy of language. Maybe you take a look at poetry that relates to science and have students read and share. Wow again, so much you could do. No matter how you proceed, I feel the most important point would be to get the students’ input as often as possible and then stand back and let it “spontaneously combust”!

  4. Hi, I am the mom of two teens, teacher and author. I love your idea. Just last week my son said “Mom, noone in high school reads.” My daughter who is in college now only read the books that interested her. If her English teacher assigned a “boring” book she and many of her classmates used Sparks Notes. Teens need to find books they enjoy then they will read. Once they develop the habit they will be open to books that challenge them. In my opinion you have to teach them to love to read first. The Heart and the Fist by Eric Greitens, Unbroken, and Endangered by Eliot Shrefer are all books teens may enjoy. If you find out what they are interested in it will make finding books for them easier. Have fun! It sounds like a great class!

  5. Have your husband hook you up with Penny Kittle or get a copy of her new book Book Love. While yours isn’t necessarily a core academic class, Penny could give you some great ideas since she works with high schoolers, too!

  6. Hi Alaina
    Props for putting this together! I’m coming from the graphic novel family, so allow me to suggest a few things that I think would make great discussion. Watchmen is a superior comic. You could discuss adapting a graphic novel into a film. On the surface, it’s all superheros, but it’s really a complex book. Also, Maus by Art Spiegelman. An amazing autobiographical and historical graphic novel about Spiegelman’s parents’ experience in a concentration camp and how they survived. I can’t say enough about this book. Graphic novels are a great tool to draw in your reluctant readers and a great way to keep those other book lovers engaged. My husband, Rafael Rosado, is the illustrator and co-creator of Giants Beware!. I do think most of your kiddos are too old (or cool) for his book, however, he would be more than happy to Skype with your kids about graphic novels, the process, the publishing world etc. Just let me know. He’d love to volunteer his time.
    Best of luck!

    • Being a “Wrinkle in Time” by Madaleine L’Engle, I was thrilled when it came out in graphic novel format. For reluctant readers who would be motivated by sci fi, it may be an option. If it sticks, you could offer them the original version.

      I love graphic novels, Darlene. So glad you suggested this!

  7. Wow, I am so impressed by your efforts and feel they speak to our need as English teachers to bring everyone on board, all teachers and all students, to understand the power and need for reading time in school. I think just offering students this time is your biggest hurdle. The rest will happen. I think it is a good idea to provide them with diverse book choices and small book talks on books you give them and then let them go. Also, be sure to let them at the start of this period to book talk as their enthusiasm just fosters more enthusiasm. I am trying to get our school to embrace reading more as an entire community and see it as something that doesn’t only need to happen in English classes. Yes, science teachers read and math teachers read and drama teachers read. This message and modeling is empowering for us as English teachers, but ultimately, more important for our students to see. Please keep posting and letting us know what happens. Again, congratulations for not only listening to your students’ desires and wishes but making this one come to life.

  8. Alaina – I love that you are doing this. Do you have any time prior to your “come read with me” session to get an idea of what type of books or things interest them? It might help with the selection of what you bring to school to read and/or book talk. I find that kids love book talks especially when we talk about books that we are excited about. If you need suggestions for books, I know that the Nerdy Book Club folks will be more than happy to give you a really long list of books. Also if you have any connections with a local indie bookstore, if you tell them what you are doing they might let you “raid” their Advance Reader Copies of young adult titles. :-) Good Luck.

  9. I suspect that they would just like to read. Having a stack of books and book-talking some might be good, but why don’t you ask those who signed up what they’d like most. I’m sure, they will have ideas! A short ‘share’ at the beginning or end of the sessions will share ‘their’ favorites. What a lovely idea, especially for high schoolers who don’t often get the chance, unless they’re in Penny Kittle’s classroom!

  10. Alaina! This is WONDERFUL! The fact that you even offered this to your students speaks volumes! I second the recommendation of Penny’s Book Love. Book talk books, introduce them to blogs like Jillian Heise’s and Sarah Andersen’s, do book passes, show trailers… Have them give you some information about what they like and don’t like and look for recommendations. (Oh my could we Nerdy folks come up with recs for them!) Above all, let them have the time and space to read. Let them share what they enjoy with each other. What time is your enrichment session on Wednesdays? I have some free time on Wednesdays – maybe we could have some of my students chatting with yours via Skype?

  11. Agreeing with many of the suggestions posted – asking them to create book trailers, do book ‘commercials’ for one another, brainstorm the best “kiddy” books that would go with their favorite big-kid books are all great ways for them to learn to communicate with an audience and add value to someone else’s life (wouldn’t lower-grade teachers love to have an all-star booklist of enduring favorites?).

    So I’d say to schedule part of their time with you as communicate-your-book and part of the time as read-your-book, either splitting the 45 minutes or doing full period of each thing on different days.

    And maybe they’d have time to look for some young adult books beyond bestsellers on my blog BooksYALove.com – where I never give away the ending (an important thing in book-talks in my opinion)!

    So happy that your school let you offer this alternative during tutoring time, instead of just sending the kids who don’t need academic help down to the gym to hang out…

  12. I think you’re plan sounds great. My only digestion would be to build in some opportunities for students to share recommendations with each other and talk about books. As avid readers, they crave these connections with other readers. These conversations might encourage the students who aren’t as confident, too. Do you need books?

  13. Alaina,
    Thanks for taking a risk! Your plan does sound great. After students choose a book, ask them to jot down just a note on “why” they chose that book so that after about 10 minutes of reading, they can see if that “reason” still applies when they get ready to talk to a peer about a book. I’m big on starting a conversation with a frame. “I chose this book titled ______ by _____ because ________. After starting it I am going to (continue/stop) reading it because_______________. (And I would model this for the class.

    We have a required class for struggling readers. A student deliberately bombed the big assessment because “this is the only class where I get to choose what I read.”

    Listen to your students! Their voices will help you along your journey!

  14. All those are good ideas … having students recommend books to each other is a great way to spread enthusiasm. You may need a stopwatch, though … they could go on and on!

    You might also have a session devoted to sharing non-fiction titles. It is often true that guys are more interested in reading non-fiction than fiction.

    And though this goes beyond the time frame that you have, it’s a idea for future development, adapted from a high school composition teacher here in my town (I’m in the children’s dept. of the public library.) Some of your reluctant readers may not be interested in tackling a chapter book, but they might be willing to embrace a picture book — now not for themselves, but for younger children. What if your group could “adopt” a class or group of younger kids, and each of your older ones could pick a really great picture book or two to go and read with a younger child they’re paired with? It’s a service project, designed to promote literacy among younger kids, and those kids who get excited about doing good for others might embrace it even if reading is not their thing. They could pick their books, have a librarian or good storyteller come and talk about and demonstrate how to read a picture book with enthusiasm to younger children. Then they could practice with each other, and finally go and meet their class of younger ones for the reading day.

    Good picture books are written very well, with concise, well-crafted use of the language. A children’s librarian could bring in a slew of good ones to choose from.

    The composition teacher in my town actually has her class WRITE and illustrate their own picture books as a project each year. Those who are artistic may draw, but others may just find illustrations on the internet. Then they adopt a local class of younger kids, and go and share their books one-on-one with students. They had me come during the early stages to talk about the characteristics of picture books and how to read them well with students.

  15. I loved reading that a science teacher is trying to nurture reading lives! My students love watching book trailer videos. Publishers seem to be producing some very high quality trailers lately.

  16. Here are a few ideas:

    1. As mentioned above, and since you currently don’t have a clear vision on how this elective will work (allowing for great flexibility), maybe have the first session be one where the students talk about their expectations, what they’d like, and book talk – by both you and the students – to find out what types of books they like to read. If some of the students are stumped about what they like to read, ask them what types of movies and/or tv shows they like which will lead to understanding the types of stories they like (e.g., action or character based, mysteries, procedural, realistic vs. fantasy, etc.). From this information, you’ll be better able to tailor the sessions to meet their interests and therefore get them more excited. At high school, students are wanting more of a say and this will give that to them.

    2. Not sure what your budget is, but it it isn’t enough to cover the books and since you are a teacher you can take advantage of fund raising efforts like DonorsChoose.org (http://www.donorschoose.org/) to get the money to buy books for your group. Also, most local bookstores offer discounts for book clubs and/or teachers.

    3. Rather than just spending the whole hour with individual reading, maybe turn it into more of a book club with one book a week or every two weeks or once a month (depending on reading level and length of the book). Talking about a book brings a level of excitement about it, allows you to see things you didn’t but another reader did. It will also give a sense of group for the students participating. The books chosen can have be different from week to week, to appeal to all the different interests and to expose the others to new books they may not necessarily have chosen. To make it fun, finishing a book isn’t mandatory (that would make it to much like a English class). It’s okay to not like a book, but you should give it a chance (at least read 90 pages before choosing to stop reading). Here’s a link to an article by a mother who ran a lunch time high school book club that lists what worked for her and her students – http://www.booksinc.net/blog/not-your-mothers-book-club/why-not-your-mothers-book-fund-why-guest-post-cj-omololu.

    4. Bring the fun element into it – have related activities.
    a. Go as a group to an author visit at a local bookstore (bonus if it’s an author for a book you’ve read together) or arrange a SKYPE visit with an author,
    b. Have a survival class if you’ve read a dystopian or post apocolyptic book (e.g., Hunger Games, Ashfall, Ashes) like how to learn how to build and start a campfire, how to make a snare, read a compass (who knows if a GPS will work), build a basic shelter. I’m sure the local outdoor activity store like REI or Northface or boy/girl scout troop leader would love to come in to demonstrate.

    5. If you need suggestions, let us know. I love recommending books. It will help us to customize our recommendations to know what your group is like and their interests. If you want I can give you links to some great YA blogs. Some great realistic books with nonwhite main characters: The Knife and the Butterfly, What Can(t) Wait, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Boy21, Darius & Twig.

    Hope this helps. It sounds like a lot of fun. I hope you let us know what you’ve decided and how it’s working.

  17. Oh, I forgot. As one of the related activities, you could adopt the 90 Second Newbery video idea and have divide the group into teams have them each make a video of their book but they have to do it 90 seconds. Or they could make book trailers. Check out James Kennedy, the founder of 90 Second Newbery, for sample videos: http://jameskennedy.com/90-second-newbery/. Your students could even submit their videos to film festival.

    Then have a screening (either just for the group, or for the school, or at the library or local bookstore/theater/coffee house) with popcorn, etc. Maybe have a red carpet if the videos are being shown to a wider audience?

  18. Another idea – have the students blog (or tweet) about their books or, old fashioned, write a journal. If tweeting, decide on a #hashtag to use so all can share and follow the tweets – maybe the club’s name?

    Apologies for the multiple entries but I wanted to share the ideas as they pop into my head, which unfortunately isn’t all at the same time. One always manages to wait until after I’ve hit the Post Comment button.

  19. Another idea – if ordering books for your group, consider adding a few audiobooks for those who have difficulty reading. It’s a great way for them to share the joy of a story without the difficulty of reading. Or pair the audiobook with the actual book, which is what we do for our Project Read adult literacy book club. They can listen and read along at the same time which helps their learning and reading comprehension.

  20. Sounds like you are doing a great job! Why not join us every Thursday for twitter chat on this! @pagescorner & @bonbonbreak co-sponsor Mission Read (www.pagescorner.com/mission-read)! Check us out! It’s a Free, community campaign to encourage reading regardless of age, gender, or socioeconomic status! Hope to see you there!

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