Archive for English 11

The Power of Stories


Everyone Likes Stories.


I truly believe that–everyone.  Not everyone likes to read, not everyone likes theater, film or other media but I believe that everyone likes stories.  When there is a good story–it turns head–it gets people to stop and pay attention.  

This year, I have been experimenting with student choice during reading time.  I know some students like to be read to.  Some like to read on their own and other like to read in a group.  So I have allowed each student to choose what they would like to do during this designated time.

If You Read It, They Will Come

When reading time comes I simply go over to the corner and start reading as if I were reading a children’s book. I actually started the school year by reading a children’s book to all of my students in the corner of the room while everyone sat on rugs.  This idea came directly from Catlin Tucker who actually modeled this in one of the conferences I had the privilege of attending.  She made the point that everyone starts out enjoying stories (we all loved story time in kindergarten).  But, something happens to many of us by the time we reach high school to make us NOT enjoy reading.  I think it has everything to do with choice and nothing to do with narrative because everyone love stories.  

Get Out of the Story’s Way 

In the past I would have given a long preface to each book or story about how great a story is or a long exposition of the historical background or why it’s an important and influential piece etc.  As I endeavored this year to be as student centered as possible by not speaking to the class–I decided that I would forgo any such statements and just start reading.  I won’t tell them why the book is good or what to read for.  I just wanted them to read–experience the story.  I didn’t even tell them to quiet down because I was reading.  


On the first few short stories the narrative just took over.  It captured the audience.  For those students who wanted to listen to me, it worked well.

Good Stories are Timeless

Today, I started Jane Eyre–a longer novel with more archaic language.  But, one containing a great story.  Now the test–could the narrative shine through the text or would it fall on deaf ears and eyes.


Prior to reading time I did something unexpected but described in the agenda–I played a film clip from the movie version (I chose the 2011 version with Michael Fassbender) because it was available on netlix streaming).  I have no explanation, no introduction, no prefatory remarks to set the context.  Some students didn’t pay attention at first but after a few minutes most of the class was watching.  By the time young Jane was placed in the Red Room, all eyes were on the screen.  It was then that I stopped the video and transitioned into reading time.
I began reading in the corner and those near me engaged and attentive.  They had a visual context for the book we were to begin and, I believe, the narrative worked it’s magic.  I’m hoping the students are now invested into novel (or at least have a point of access), but time will tell.  Today, it was affirmed to me that everyone loves stories and If i can get myself out of the way of a good story–a good story will do it’s work.  

The Love of Reading and the Power of Choice


The Joy of Reading


I remember when I was in high school I NEVER finished a single book assigned by my English teacher–and I was a “good” student.  BUT, I was always reading–mostly Stephen King.  I devoured all of his novels growing up.  In fact, every summer I read a King novel to try to re-capture that pure love of reading I experienced as a youth.

The Agony of School Reading

In high school, I really liked reading but I didn’t like to be told what to read and when.  I actually attempted to read all of the assigned novels but the outside of class reading was extensive and I fell behind and could never seem to catch up.  I can remember one time trying to plow through “Arrowsmith” By Sinclair Lewis thinking This will be the novel I finish, but it wasn’t.  I fell behind like always.  Nevertheless, I did my work and took my “B” at the end of the day.  

The Power of Choice

Choice is a powerful incentive.  When I taught history my theory was that EVERYONE likes history.  Now not everyone likes history class or certain eras in history but EVERYONE can find something they like about history.  The same holds true for books.  I believe everyone likes stories we like telling stories and hearing stories.  What is a novel but a long story.  However, not everyone can easily access the story in the same way.  So I have decided to incorporate a greater amount of choice this year.


I am still choosing the novels.  But, now students have a choice of what reading format works best for them.  They can listen to me read in the corner, Or they can read in a group, Or they can read by themselves.  I even let them read outside under a tree.  Everyone is able to access the text in such a way that works for the.


I am also giving them choice in the type of assignments they do to show me that they have accessed the text. They can either do copywork:  Actually copy out of the text itself.  This is a basic level assignment and allows the student who would normally never read, have some engagement with the next.  The mid-level assignment involves taking a basic quiz over the content and the higher level assignment involves keeping a reading journal and interacting with the text through writing in such a way that shows they have process the text.


Let Students Catch Up

I tell the students if they fall behind that they can catch up by reading Sparknotes or Shmoop.  These are highly detailed summaries that will catch anyone up to speed so that they can go back to doing challenging work even if they fall behind.    Many students, even the best students, will give up if they get to far behind.

Now, I know that some students will not read and then go back and read Sparknotes–then do the mid level assignment.  That’s fine–they are reading at a certain level on their own time and are fulfilling the same requirements.  They will not earn an A doing this.  But, this may encourage them to jump back into reading the text–at least they will always have this option.


Furthermore, I tell them that if they love to read (as I did–and still do) and read outside of class that I will give them class credit–even if it’s Stephen King. I do want them to read certain things in my class but I want to make room for choice.  


Book Wall: If You Build It, They Will READ



IF You Build it They Will READ

I used to think that students didn’t like to read.  I was wrong.  I became aware of this fact when I built my book wall.  Now, I have to admit–the motivations for building my book wall were a bit selfish.  I needed an easy and fun way to decorate my classroom, but I needed more space to store my books.  I frequent thrift shops, used bookstores and library book sales and simply do not have room at home to store everything I want to buy and I had maxed out all the shelf space in my classroom.


Push Pins and Binder Clips

My wife told me about a teacher at CART in Clovis, CA, who used push pins and binder clips to hang books–simple and easy.  I just happen to have tons of binder clips so put up as many as possible–with no organization, rhyme or reason.  Then, something magical happened. Students started to ask me if they could borrow them.  What!?!  This wasn’t a part of any assignment I had given.  They didn’t need them for Silent Reading (our school got rid of that years ago).  They just wanted to read them.  


Plus, my students never asked me about my books when they were on the shelf!  Some teachers believe that books are not as attractive when only their spine is showing.  I think there is something to this.  We all know the old adage:  You can’t judge a book by its cover.  But, maybe an attractive cover can make the difference between being noticed and not–at least in a classroom. 

Choice is Powerful

Now, I make more of an effort to buy books students will be interested in–which has only increased the number of check outs.  Choice is a powerful thing.



So now If a student wants to check one out I have them fill out a 3×5 card with their name and book title.  Now, I will eventually incorporate this into my class formally-by giving them some sort of class credit for reading.  But for now, it’s really refreshing to see this.  

Good things happen when you don’t tell HOW


I Took A Big Risk 

Today, I took a big risk (for me) in creating an assignment for my students.  I told them to do something that I didn’t know how to do.  The students had to take a picture of an assignment from another class and upload it to Google Classroom.  The results were amazing.  I had students asking each other how to do it and there was an expert at every table.  I had one student show me how to do it and I learned something.  Last year I would not have even given this assignment.  


I used to think that I needed to be an expert in everything I was asking my students to do.  I assumed that they knew nothing and therefore, I, the disseminator of all knowledge and information (in my old TEACHER driven classroom) must learn and master the content so that I could show my students how.  

It’s NOT About Me


Even when I started to move to a STUDENT centered model I still felt the need to explain everything by giving step-by-step instructions that were two pages long.  This resulted in students not reading the instructions and asking one another or myself how to do something.  But, more importantly, it PREVENTED me from trying anything that I was not an expert in because I “Don’t have time to learn it.”


I ALSO have found that students are more creative when you loosen the parameters.  They find a way to do things, they use creative thinking skills, they do things you do not expect.  And, if given choice, they tend to go above and beyond your expectations.  They want to use color or add pictures or do a little bit extra because they chose the assignment and they feel like they have the freedom to do it their way.  


I used to HATE vague language.  I used to want clear, concise directions and expectations.  Now I like a bit of vagueness that spurs creativity.  I just tell them what I want–but NOT how to do it.  The results have been amazing.