Do you think that the books read in school are boring? Are parents really worried about what their kids are reading in school? I can imagine that some parents don’t want their kids reading certain books because of language, or inappropriate scenes. How often does that happen? How often do teachers push their own agenda in the classroom? I don’t think it happens in elementary school or middle school. It might happen in high school, and more than likely happens at university. However, by the time our kids get to be adults attending college, shouldn’t they be capable of analyzing what others say, and deciding for themselves?

My Experience

I’ve worked in two different school districts, both of which are populated by fairly conservative families. When teachers talk about what they’re teaching, they’re limited to a list of books approved for a specific grade, or lexile level. The books that are available to use in class aren’t always physically available in the school. So, as they say, beggars can’t be choosers. In most cases, teachers teach from books that are approved, and that have been purchased by a teacher and administration consensus.

When I write, “books that are approved”, I mean books that have been submitted for review by a teacher who would like to use it. A committee of teachers, librarians, and community members read the book and decide if it has literary value, anything that might be seen as inappropriate, and if it fits the grade level of the students being taught.

In my experience, most books are classics. They’re older and have some historic and cultural value. Books that will probably be around forever like To Kill a Mockingbird, Huck Finn, and nearly everything by William Shakespeare.

My Philosophy

Obviously young kids shouldn’t be exposed to books that have foul language, or excessive violence. Sometimes adult books will have kids versions that are significantly modified. I think that’s fine, but there are so many things to read that it isn’t necessary. I don’t know how it happens exactly, but kids get to middle school, and they start to hate school. They might like to read, but then they’re told what to read and when to finish and it becomes a chore. I would much rather have kids read something they like on their own time, or even during class time so they don’t lose that interest.

When I taught 8th grade we read Ender’s Game in class. Ender’s Game is one of my favorite books. It’s interesting, it’s unusual, it’s violent, has some foul language, and is on the approved list. When reading out loud, I usually replace the words to something silly, which helps kids keep reading along. They giggle when I change something which causes the bored kids to wonder what’s up. We can talk about cause and effect. We can talk about what they would do if they were there. We can identify what is appropriate according to our cultural norms, and what is inappropriate. It is a great community learning experience.

What about Shakespeare. When was the last time you read Shakespeare? High school? College? Did you really read it, or did your teacher simplify things for you? Go back to the famous “love story” Romeo and Juliet. It’s not really about love. It’s a story of infatuation between two teens over a three day period. The opening scene between Gregory and Sampson is typical of Shakespeare’s punning; talking about maidenhead and salted fish. Seriously, parents complain about things, but not Shakespeare. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Shakespeare. I think he was the most clever writer of drama in the English language. Do parents remember reading Shakespeare? Do they really care what their students are reading, or does Shakespeare get a pass just because his writing is old and everyone reads it?

Why Read Together In Class?

When everyone in class has experienced the same story at the same time, it’s easy to have a conversation. It’s easy to address social or environmental concerns. Kids can ask questions and hear what multiple people have to say about it. As a teacher, I can guide the conversation. I can act like I don’t understand what students are talking about, forcing them to think about what they really think and explain more specifically. I can put kids into pairs or groups to help those who are shy or timid communicate in a less stressful environment. I can then provide other whole class experiences that force the kids to band together.

Standing Up For Who We Are

When we read about Anne Frank and World War Two, students had a hard time understanding why it was so difficult for Jews to stand up for themselves. They didn’t understand the community pressure to report traitors to the German government. I tried to give students a feeling of this during class. I started class in a very stern, almost angry way. I told students that we had a lot of things to do during class, and that we didn’t have a lot of time to waste. I divided students into groups to read picture books about The Holocaust, but I didn’t give them enough time to do it. I had them switch to the next book before they could finish. Students started to complain that they weren’t finished, so I sent them to the hall. The first few students to complain were really scared. Usually they were the on task students who never got into trouble. They couldn’t understand why I was in such a bad mood. Eventually six or seven kids were sent out into the hall, and kids still in class were totally silent, totally on task.

Time To Process

After 10 minutes or so, I called the students in the hall back to class. Everyone was silent. I asked them what they experienced as they tried to read the assigned picture books. I had them take out a piece of paper to write down their experiences, thoughts, feelings, and anything else they thought about the activity. Their eyes got bigger, and some smiled as they started to understand the connection. They wrote about their fear and frustration. Eventually, we could talk about why it was so difficult to stand up against Hitler’s government. They were much more sympathetic to the situation and realized how easy it can be to give someone else power.

Reading can be a powerful experience whether individually, or in a class of 30 other people. Sometimes we read to escape, and sometimes we read to understand others. Teachers try to choose books that they are confident will help students. Teachers try to help students become thoughtful, sympathetic, empathetic, caring, and patient.

I don’t know how, but I missed reading a lot of books that others read in middle and high school. I’ve read many of them as an adult, and for the most part loved the experience each book offered. Some are still not great, but that’s a matter of personal opinion and I’m OK with that.

What did you read in middle school or high school? How did those stories change your perspective on life?

 

Read on!

-Dave

I remember a time when I didn’t love to read. Getting lost in a book seemed to take too much time and effort. There were other things I would rather do: watch TV, play outside, ride my bike, skateboard. I guess that’s how kids are today. Reading was like homework and when Mom or Dad asked if I had homework, the answer was almost always no.

Today my reading habits are slightly different. I’m a sucker for books. I set a goal to read more books each year. I started with one a month knowing that some books take a while to read, and others are so engrossing that I can’t put them down. Last year I had a goal to read 17 books. I ended up reading 22, which is crazy to me because of how much time is taken by meetings, lesson planning, and grading.

This year I have more going on, and I’ve set a goal to read 20 books. I plan on doing more in my yard over the summer. I am writing for this website, and plan on producing videos in the near future. I’m still teaching. I still have papers to grade. I still have meetings. I still have a family to spend time with and take care of. So how does one read more than a book a month? On top of that, how does one read more than one book at a time?

How I (Realistically) Read More Than One Book At A Time

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know I try to promote reading everywhere. I tell my students that they can read just about anything in book form, or listen to audiobooks. I’ve figured out that for me, I like to listen to audiobooks when I am driving, working in the yard, or cleaning. Sometimes I listen to music, but there are so many great audiobooks available for free from the library.

I also have ebooks on my phone. I prefer the Kindle app, but there are others that work whether you’re a Google, Nook, or Apple fan. When I’m ready for bed, but not totally tired, I’ll pull out my phone and read a few pages.

Every other time during the day I have a paper book that I almost always have with me. Here’s what my “currently reading” book list looks like today.

  • Audiobook – Wildcard by Marie Lu. This is the sequel to Warcross. It’s a great sci-fi story about a bounty hunter, an online game, and the future of wearable technology.
  • eBook – Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. This is great, accessible retelling of Norse Mythology. It’s very well done, and easy to get into.
  • Paper Book – Killing Floor by Lee Child. This is the first book in a series of stories about Jack Reacher, and the adventures he experiences. I just started the book, and it reminds me somewhat of John Grishams attorney novels.

I try to read different types of books so I don’t get the characters or story lines mixed up. I’m waiting to read the sequel to Variant by Robison Wells. This book isn’t exactly like Warcross, but it’s close enough that I’ll wait. Norse Mythology is basically a collection of stories, so it’s easy to pick up and put down. Sometimes I’ll pick up a nonfiction book. That will usually be easy to keep straight because it’s so different from the fiction.

How Many Different TV Shows Do You Watch In A Week?

This is probably the closest comparison I can make. During the week you might watch a sitcom or two, or a show like Law & Order. Maybe you’ll enjoy a reality TV show when the season is right. Add a movie on the weekend, and you’re basically watching two to three shows at the same time. How do you keep all of those storylines and characters straight? It’s not the same? I think it is. It’s possible and with practice, it’s pretty easy.

I’m curious. Do you only read one book at a time? Do you think you could add one more? Why don’t you give it a try?

How many books are you reading now? What are they? I’d really like to know. I love looking for new books.

There are so many good books to read!

Read on!

-Dave

 

I have to tread lightly when it comes to whether a book is appropriate or not. I live in a pretty conservative city, in a pretty conservative state, so when it comes to recommending books, I hesitate.

The Solution

I love hearing stories about kids finding the book that they couldn’t put down. Just the other day I had a 16 year old girl tell me about how she found a book at the school library by Jay Asher, the author of Thirteen Reasons Why. I don’t know which book she was looking for but she picked another by Mr. Asher and started it at school that day. On a whim she decided to take it home. She finished it that weekend. She FINISHED IT! THAT WEEKEND!

Please forgive my excitement. She talked to me about how she hadn’t found a book that she liked since Twilight. She has connected the dots. She now realizes that she likes books with relationships where the characters have an issue that they need to work through. She likes books! 🙂

I can have a conversation with students about books that they might be interested in. I can gauge how they might respond to a book by their facial expressions. And I don’t pressure them. If they don’t like it, they know they can put it down and pick up something else. I want kids to read. I know they have to like it to keep going. I know that reading opens doors to vocabulary, ideas, compassion, respect, and less judgement. I can get a feeling for how much gore a student is comfortable with. I’m okay if a student isn’t comfortable with rough language in a story. I’m okay with students reading romances. I’m okay with students reading graphic novels. I’m okay with students reading, even if there’s gore, violence, language, relationships. Students, well…high school students, are generally better at accepting the differences of others in story form. Things that are edgy are appealing. I recognize that it’s not my job to teach my standards to my students. And I respect theirs.

The Problem

Parents. Parents are trying to protect their children from the sad and scary things that happen in our world. I understand. I’m a parent. I would never talk with my 8 year old daughter about the details of The Diary of Anne Frank. We might talk about it generally. The terrible things that happened during The Holocaust can’t be ignored, but there are levels of appropriateness. I’ll eventually talk with my daughters about dating rules and dating safety. They need to know what’s okay, what’s not, and what I will do if they need help.

Teenagers today are dealing with terrible things that happen at school. They know of students or have friends that have been through awful situations at home, at parties, or at school. They could be dealing with the topics that are coming up in books that are in our public and school libraries. Do we expect our students, our children to avoid these topics? Do we talk with them about what’s happening in the news, in our nation, and around the world? Here’s a small list of controversial, possibly inappropriate titles that are being read by teens in our country.

These aren’t bad books. They have language. They have mature situations. They’re dealing with things that are happening in our world right now. They’re addressing situations and ideas that our young adults are experiencing.

I have found that you have to trust what you have taught your kids. If they find a book, and the book has language that makes them uncomfortable, they’ll probably stop reading it. If they keep reading an edgy book because they have a friend who recommended it, and they’re trying to be understanding, is that really a bad thing?

Have conversations with your kids about what they’re reading and why they’re reading it. Talk about the difficult situations. What should they do if they have a friend who is contemplating running away, or committing suicide? Who should they be able to talk to? Hopefully that would be you.

Reading is an escape, but more often it’s a way to understand other people. It’s a way to understand people who are different from you. Reading is how we learn to treat other people, as if we were the main character in the story. We compare ourselves to the main character. We empathize with them. We cheer them on. We cry when they’re hurt. Reading is magic.

So, when it comes to determining if a book is appropriate for your child, you could search the internet for what other people think, or you could have a conversation with your child about it.

What do you think? Let me know.

Read on!
-Dave

 

Maybe the question should be, “How do I know if the time that it takes to read a book is worth it?”. That might be easier to work with. The people who love to read know what they like to read. They know that there are different categories of books. Not genres per se, but qualities of books. Let’s break that down. Why would someone read?

For Fun – Candy Reading

People who read for fun are reading for the same reason that people watch Netflix or go to movies. It can be an escape. It can be because of the director, actors, or the creator of the story as with the Harry Potter movies, or any of the Marvel or DC stories. It’s a fun adventure without requiring any serious commitment. It’s a break from our daily grind. Sometimes these books get bad publicity, like romance novels or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. They definitely have a place on bookshelves. There’s nothing wrong with them. I encourage my students to read whatever they like, but also I expect them to challenge themselves and not read anything they’ve read before. Especially when they’re in high school. They shouldn’t be reading elementary level books in high school.

Skimming – Coffee Table Reading

There’s often not a lot of reading here. Coffee Table books are often full of pictures on a specific topic. These books might include topics in woodworking, collecting antiques, vehicles, or historical events and locations. These books are interesting and you can get a lot of information from them, but it’s a casual endeavor.

Literary Reading

Literary reading is something that we try to teach in school to prepare students for University. Not everyone likes this kind of reading because the books are often considered difficult or boring (though they’re not boring). The more challenging the work is, often times the more rewarding the result.

Academic Reading – Research

Academic reading can be a little bit deceiving. Academic reading, is learning about anything, from how a car works, to how to build a guitar. Academic research can be learning about a country, language, or sports statistics. Academic reading is often supplemented by video, thanks to websites like YouTube. People can find information about any topic. I’m sure you know this, though.

Back to the title question: What makes a book worth reading?

If it’s for a grade, it’s worth reading. If it’s for fun, it’s worth reading. If it’s for entertainment or conversation, it’s worth reading. If it’s a story that you love from a more difficult author, try reading it!

There are so many books to read, enjoy, explore, and discover!

How are you reading now? Are you escaping, or researching for class?

Read on!

-Dave

Kelly Gallagher’s books were first suggested to me as a first year teacher. I’ve only had the chance to really spend time with one, Deeper Reading. It is subtitled “Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12. It’s an amazing resource to help students discover the practice of close reading by focusing on the students’ skills.

Inside Deeper Reading

It’s a relatively short book at just over 200 pages, but so much is covered. There are chapters on focusing the reader, first-draft reading, second-draft reading, meaningful reflection, and teaching versus assigning. Some subjects can be taught cold, meaning students don’t know what’s going on, and eventually they pick up the things they need to remember. They might gain understanding through context and hands on experience. That might be okay for subjects like science or history, but even then students always learn more if they are given a key or guide to what is coming.

For example, if I were to give a copy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the average high school freshman, they would already have an idea of the story. Romeo and Juliet has become fairly popular and elements have been adopted by movies, sitcoms, and kids animated movies. Students would be thrown off by Shakespeare’s language, but they would get the ideas in the story.

How much more would they understand if they were introduced to the physical location of the story? How much more would they absorb if they understood the conflict between Montague and Capulet and how it drives Romeo to pursue Juliet? What details would they understand better if they knew the basics of common language in Shakespeare’s plays? The more we help, the more students will understand.

Students need guidance when tackling challenging texts. Gallagher points out in chapter 10, that there’s a difference between teaching and assigning. The book addresses the process of teaching reading as a community effort. Teaching through the first read through might require conversations about what is happening. Students may pick up on different details that others miss.

Students often challenge a second read through, but if they’re truly going to understand what they have read, they might need to read it more than once. If students are going to be expected to develop deeper reading strategies, they are going to have to see the text from different perspectives.

There’s much more to this book. I really recommend it. It’s an academic read, but I think it’s very accessible. If I were to get into the business of giving stars, it’s easily 5 out of 5 for value, and the volume of useable activities in class or one on one with an individual.

 

Have you read anything else by Kelly Gallagher? What do you think?

Read on!

-Dave