Friday, April 13, 2012

The Power of a Good Book Talk

Sometimes I assume that all teachers of English/language arts understand the power behind talking about books. The sad reality is that not all of them do.  (Well, you know what they say when you assume...) I love having conversations about books with our library media specialist, my assistant principal, my colleagues, and especially with my students.  From these conversations, I learned that one of our Spanish teachers is an avid reader, as are several of the math teachers. I used to throw historical fiction books at the social studies teacher to read because I didn't want to. He would tell me if he thought they were any good. One of our science teachers raids my bookshelves on occasion or asks me for a recommendation. Sometimes I just barge into her classroom like a mad woman shouting "YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!" and she does. So, the teachers that I mention don't just READ, they read Young Adult literature!

Though I wonder: Do these teachers talk about what they read with their students?  If not, they should be! Students need to see that it isn't just the English/Reading teachers who read and talk about books.  Imagine the message it would send if that science teacher took one minute our of her class to talk about the great book she read last weekend. It shows her students that she is not just a science teacher--she is also a reader--and this is just another great way to connect with students.

A couple weeks ago I finished Wonder by RJ Palacio and the day after I finished, I "book talked" it to my students.  There are a lot of easy ways to do a book talk but the first rule is, you must actually have the book on hand to show to the students. (You should also be willing to loan it to the students to read otherwise don't bother.) I gave a little background about the main character, August, and told the students that he is severely deformed. (That got their attention.) I also told the students how sections of the book are told from different characters point of view--August's sister, some of his classmates, his sister's boyfriend, etc. I mentioned there was a part in the book that made me cry and want to shout out angrily at the cruelty of society.  (If you read it, I'm referring to the e-mails.) By the end, I cried because I was so happy that my faith in humanity had been restored. (The students want to hear about our emotions. It makes us, as educators, more human.)  Lastly, I took a few moments to read page 88 to the top of page 89 aloud as well as page 120. (From the hardcover version.) They were hooked.  Some of the kids were begging me to read the entire book aloud and I just may do that starting next week.

The students know my rule--no one can check out any of the books I "book talk" until the end of the school day--after I've presented to all of my classes. (First come, first serve.) You would think this would give my last class period of the day the advantage but we have a "Homeroom/Connections" block following last period so whoever makes the effort to come back gets the reward! :)  

Wonder will be a great read aloud for the middle school classroom, but it will also be a great book to have as a choice to read in Book Clubs (Some call them Literature Circles--I call them Book Clubs.) I am anxious to order a set of 6 or more for my students (or for our Book Room), but am patiently waiting for it to come out in paperback.  It's a powerful book and several interesting conversations will come from it not only among the students, but also among teachers. Everyone should be "talking" about it. ;)

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