Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Book Talking

I have been subbing in lots of school libraries recently. I have enjoyed the chance to work in several jr. high libraries. I like the energy and "relative" maturity of the students.

Wandering though a library book fair yesterdayI noticed there were several modes of students. The majority of the kids were clustered around the hardcover world record books and Ripley's Believe it or Not. Others were thumbing through the software and the "toys."

A handful of kids were pulling books off the shelves and reading the back cover. I struck up a conversation with them and began pointing out several titles I knew and gave them a quick book talk. Before long we were wandering the book cases trading, "oooh have you read THIS one?" comments. Two girls decided to split their purchases, "you buy this one and I will get this one and then we can trade." One young man had read Artemis Fowl but did not know about The Supernaturalist.

All in all a very satisfying day.

Kids in jr. high and high school want to talk about the books they are reading. They are not interested in matching wits with a computer and answering arcane questions about the color of the door knobs on page 67. They don't like looking for metaphors and listing them, discovering allusions or expounding on "voice." They WILL talk about characters, plot twists,descriptions and make predicitions about future installments with enthusiasm. They also like suggesting new books to read.

I know so many kids who loved Holes by Louis Sachar but now dislike it (sorry Louis) because it has become the class novel unit. As one 6th grader I know put it, "They RUINED it!" Reading and English teachers, I guess you have to teach literary elements but could you do it with passion and enthusiasm? There is more to descriptive language than worksheets.


Kelly said...

Nice post, Camille! I like Jr. High kids too. Bad news about worksheets and "Holes," though. Do they really still use worksheets in jr. high? They're old enough to talk about what they love and see in a book.

Anonymous said...

Worksheets are used up through high school. I liked the way one of my professors here at college tested for reading comprehension (the reason for the gas station type questions). She had us read the book - and write something. Sometimes we'd be responding to a question (how do you think problem X contributed to the plot. any other thoughts?) and sometimes it'd be an open essay - was there something about the book that struck us? Any underlying themes? An unusal character?

Personally, I found writing like that more challenging than any of the stuff I did in jr. high and high school...and much more satisfying.

We emailed the essays to the TAs (in this class, the TAs were an integral part of the class) and they'd email comments back to them. Our professor would read our reports and comment on them (eventually) and in class, we'd talk about what we'd read.

We were also sorted into different groups and each group had a theme or topic to talk about. After a bit, we'd write what we found on a piece of butcher paper and the entire class would consider the comments and suggest their own.

The best part, though? We were reading children's books.

Anonymous said...

Camille, that's a nice post. One of my son's favorite books is Kevin Henkes's "Lily's Plastic Purse." They read it in class, and one day he came home with a Xeroxed worksheet on it. Yuck. (The quality of the copying wasn't even good.)

Camille said...

Sarah--Now THAT'S what I'm talking about!! Your experienc is so much better than "find 3 similes and 2 allusions in chapter 5" kind of questions. Could we ask why the author might have used that allusion or what does it mean about the character to be "simile-ized" in that way?

Susan--Crummy photocopies about a favorite book--arrgghhh-- just let all the air out of the fun while you are at it.

File under "Things the make my eye twitch"

While there are many great teachers who love teaching literature I wonder how many others have a real passion for the books?

You cannot fool the kids.

Liz B said...

One of my real fears is that good books will be ruined for kids because of how those books are handled in a classroom setting. I love books like Pride & Prejudice, Brideshead Revisted, etc., because I was lucky enough to find them on my own. I've never liked One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest because of the classroom discussions about that book. It's not until college that I had required reading that was handled in such a way that I enjoyed & loved the reading. And the number of kids I've talked to who dislike Paulsen's Hatchet because it was required reading -- and the way that was handled in the classroom -- is truly frightening.

Camille said...

That has always been one of my pet peeves about AP courses in high school. When you are on a death march through American Literature (if it is Tuesday, it must be Hemmingway) how can you appreciate the richness of the writing? Get to college and take a class from a professor whose life work has been Hemmingway. That is college level learning.