Archive | March, 2014

So I started a book club

26 Mar

As a teacher who is lucky enough to have my students for both 7th and 8th grade English, I am able to watch a roller coaster of reading. Students are too busy to read on their own during sports, indulge in great books all year long, binge for a month at a time, or take the summer off. Who knows what you’re going to get with middle schoolers!

I require a minimum of 30 minutes of reading homework per night, and we also have reading days in class. My goal is that when students leave my class and go to high school that they know themselves as readers, have a plan for what they want to read, and, above all else, love reading.

In order to accomplish this goal I’ve spent most of my career defending my middle school students’ right to read books of their choice, to read on their own, and to read what is of interest to them.

I’m starting to reconsider.

I have an exceptional group of 8th graders this year, and many of them absolutely love to read. But they weren’t reading, at least not like they used to. I heard excuses about being busy with sports or drama or anything else that is important as an 8th grader. The only problem is that these things weren’t taking away from their reading before now.

I started throwing around the idea of a book club to my 8th graders – something completely optional during lunch. Students would choose the book, how much we read, and when we meet. They could even go get dessert if that was the deal breaker!

Well it worked. I have nine of our thirty 8th graders, a gym teacher, and me in my room during lunch at least once a week. We discuss the things that they see in books: characters, plot, questions, and their beliefs. The social aspect of reading is something that we clearly crave like this NYT article explores.

With all of the benefits, the best part is that I now have those students who love to read loving to read again! It is so clear that reading is contagious because now these book club members are checking out more books when they don’t want to get ahead of the book club. Their passion has been reignited!

The way I see it is that I could spend time complaining about my students lack of reading, or I could do something about it.

Mission accomplished.

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iPads are the answer, even if they are missing a keyboard

6 Mar

Students writing as they read, jotting down notes on the text, highlighting, and bookmarking. Most teachers would respond with, “Don’t write in the book!” But if we are going to do what we need to do to meet the Common Core, we MUST be writing in the book. Or the iPad more specifically.

Personally, I believe iPads are the way of the future in English education. More and more I see the importance of reading relevant and current nonfiction and being able to annotate and interact with the text, and it seems like the iPad is going to be the best way to do this.

Apple has sold 170 million iPads and counting. The most innovative computer company in the world doesn’t stop there. Apple’s stranglehold on teens’ music/internet/social networking devices is an important focus. If schools want to connect to our students through technology, we need to meet them where they are. Knowledge and information is at the fingertips of our students at all times. iPads are simply the best option to read, annotate, search the web, and view content easily.

Netbooks. The current answer to our technology issue. Students need a way to surf the web, research, and word process in a convenient way. Convenient being a debatable term. Right now it is another thing to lug around school on top of textbooks, notebooks, and the ever-important planner. These limited computers are not the answer to what we need in an English classroom.

Now the iPad isn’t perfect, the biggest complaint about iPads being that they don’t have traditional keyboards. The keyboard is an issue for the teachers, not the students. Most of my kids will choose to type a blog post on their iPod instead of using their netbook.  And if you need more proof, here are some real-world examples where students said, “No thanks,” to keyboards.

“Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?” Principals Association, 1815

Although this quote might be slightly embellished, it is partly based on reality. Physical keyboards, like chalkboards, are moving towards the past. As much as teachers feel the need to keep them alive, they are becoming impractical. Our students just don’t like them. Teachers should help students get the chalk dust off their hands if they choose. Keyboards? Make them available, but not required.