The heat has been beastly this week — over 90˚ every day, and today my car thermometer said 100˚ when I left school. My classroom is on the top floor, and there is a large flat roof jutting out from the wall just below the eight huge windows that line the outside wall; the roof looks like it should be a patio and often kids will ask if we can just climb out the window and have class out on the roof. The sun shines in during the afternoon and there is no cross ventilation, just suffocating heat in weather like this week’s. Because we knew this heat wave was coming, I had a chance to plan how I’d deal with it. Last Friday I announced that we would have class in cooler parts of the building, and so it would be a reading week. Fortunately, our school administration is sympathetic when it comes to hot weather, which we seem to have more and more frequently in recent years, so I knew I could move my class location without an issue.
I had several reasons for announcing on Friday that this would be a reading week; it was one of those rare occasions when several events converged in a beautifully orchestrated harmony. First of course was the weather; reading is about all we would have the energy for in the heat. Second: it was going to be a “testing week” when schedules are disrupted so that all students can be placed into 90-minute testing blocks. As much as it seems like it shouldn’t be a terrible interruption, it IS a disruption and “normal” disappears in the face of change. Some people cannot function well when routine is disrupted, and it seems especially true when it’s the second week of school and we’re not even sure what the routine is yet. But it all works out and everyone manages to be OK in the end. Reading — the escape into a good story — is a good activity for a crazy week like this. The third reason for the Friday announcement was that the library would be closed for the week because it’s one of the testing locations.
As I helped some of the kids find just the right book, I came across a series that I started reading last year and enjoyed greatly; Margaret Peterson Haddix writes with excitement and action as well as depth of character, and her books pull me in. I had not planned on choosing any books for myself, but I paused, and then thought why not — I could read while the kids are reading; I’m in between books at the moment, so the timing was good. I checked out the second book, and I also took the advice of our library assistant and borrowed a recently published novel in verse by Ron Koertge, Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs.
I don’t always read when my students have reading time, but I know it’s an educationally sound practice. Modeling good reading practice and letting my students see me enjoy a good book — a good Young Adolescent book, no less — can be a powerful way to encourage reluctant readers to give it a try. I didn’t plan on spending time reading YA books this year; I figured I had read enough of those and I’m going to retire anyway, so I could be done with that kind of reading! This summer I read two big fat adult books and felt very much like I was beginning a new phase of my reading life.
But . . . I’ve been concerned in recent years at the growing numbers of reluctant readers — students who come to me in seventh grade liking to read but who, in eighth grade, find technological toys and socializing with friends much more important. What can I do to turn that around — to keep kids reading?
So it was with purpose that I opened the Haddix novel and began to read, and I don’t know if my students watched as my backbone stiffened, or my eyes widened at the exciting and dramatic parts, because I was in the story; I was hooked. I read the whole book in three class periods. Now I know that a diet of strictly adult books is not to be mine — at least not until next year. This afternoon I started reading Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs and I’m loving its poetic word play and pages written in specific poetry styles, such as pantoum, a very interesting and fun form that I’m sure my students can write once we get to the poetry unit. I’m certain to finish this book quickly, too, and I’ll have to go to our wonderful school librarian (are you reading this, Carol?) and beg her to let me check out the rest of the Haddix series and the prequel to Koertge’s book.
So this blog entry is actually my confession, that I DO enjoy YA literature, and it took a heat wave for me to remember. I’ll keep reading along with my students, and might even stash a book or two into my school bag to bring home occasionally. After all, a well written book is written well for any reader who chooses to enter and turn the pages.
‘Nuff said. Thanks for reading.