Penny Kittle is bookish, extremely bookish, and head over heels in love with books. She just exudes bookish behavior in her classroom and it makes me envy the minds she is tapping into. The advice she gives is great, the passion she has is palpable, and her heart for teaching is pumped into the words she is delivering in her text entitled “Book Love.” This week I read over chapters five and six and came face to face with what Mrs. Kittle calls “Book Talk” and the specifics of “Conferencing” with students. I just nodded my head and turned the pages; embracing the methods I will someday use, but with my own less attractive spin I’m sure.
The “book talk” centers around an engaged classroom while reading over texts. I’ve found the engagement is the secret here. While Kittle is reading, her students are underlining sentences they like and are actively engaging with the text while the teacher is reading. Then, after the reading session has been completed, students will answer questions dedicated to the writing craft of the author. All of this is pretty simple, but the message is powerful. By having students simple underlining sentences they like, they have the ability to respond to questions and their feelings using “textual evidence.” This is just good academic practice. The “book talk” goes beyond comprehension and craft skill, though. It leads students to create their own classroom community of readers. After choosing the right books to discuss as a group, high school students will have an array of insights to deliver. These insights are all categorized into an “encyclopedia of writing topics” that the class came up with. Kittle is giving her students the reins to steer writing topics, and this is marvelous at the high school level because it keeps interest at a peak.
What about those students who are having a hard time engaging with book talk, and are finding it difficult to read at all? This is where “student conferencing”comes in. Here the power is in the practiced pedagogy of a teacher, and the language and mood of the conversation. Kittle shifts everything to the motivations and problems faced by the student, with her own insights on the world of reading. The conference is three stage in the text: conferences that monitor a reading life, conferences that teach a reading strategy, conferences that increase complexity and challenge. These three methods are in order of difficulty. At its heart, conferencing, is about organization. All of this needs to be documented or else the teacher and the student will get swamped. I will use layman’s terms for these conferences. Number one, they don’t have to be scheduled, but the teacher needs to get to all students. The first question involves the “what?” Meaning what are you reading? The second conference question involves the “how?” Meaning how is your book going?” The third conference question involves the “where?” Meaning where do you go from here to challenge yourself as a reader? The last conference stage is where every teacher needs to have their students at by some point.
In closing I have some advice for teachers, and mostly this is me talking to myself, for aren’t all blogs really a conference with yourself? I think so. Here is some advice inspired by Kittle. Read to your students with an intense fervor, give your students the reins to create classroom activities that are beneficial to them and you, and never shy from inspiring students to mark their life with reading. In all of this, stay organized, because students deserve organization.
Since I read Jason Reynolds this week here is short video of him discussing diversity. Always teach towards diverse reading. Keep Mirror and Window reading in mind.
Today we also lost Chuck Berry, R.I.P.