Part of the reason I am inspired to read is because I desire to know what other people think of the books I have read. Narrowing the lens further, I am inspired to read in order to gain a grasp of how other people decode themes presented in books. Penny Kittle’s chapters eight and nine in Book Love are talking about this exact thing. Kittle titles it “interdependence” and “school community of readers,” but an even simpler term would be unity. I think she may have even used a team sports’ cliche or two in the chapters of our reading. It really is important though. We can become good readers and writers by ourselves, but in order to attain a higher level of skill and knowledge we must connect with people who are doing the same thing.
Kittle first idea, which is fantastic, is her themed notebooks, or what she calls her “big idea books.” These are merely notebooks with one theme written on the cover. That theme may be love, social isolation, family, or any number of different themes.. What makes this exercise unique is that the notebooks are used by everyone in the class. Upon reading a book in Kittle’s classroom, a student will grab the corresponding notebook for the major themes in their book they just read. The student will then write a summary or reflection on the theme they have chosen from their finished book. By writing in these notebooks, students can read what their classmates have discovered about the same themes. This brings a class together by tackling themes from all different angles of perspective. Kittle aptly places a “rules for civil discourse in community writing” in each notebook to defend against plagiarism and bullying.
On page 121 of our text Kittle writes, “Prompting students’ thinking by way of inquiry, not direct teaching, is the essence of education. Students remember what they do and what they discover, not what they are told.” This is one of the major purposes of the “big idea books;” present students with activities that allow the student to answer their own questions and the teacher’s questions. It doesn’t stop at reflection notebooks for Kittle. She also has her students, as a class, connect texts together through the history of literature by what is contained within them. What this does is show the class the coupling effect books have. It is one giant book biome formed through hundreds of language reorganization, and thought organization. This along with “big idea books” are a classroom assignment designed to mold a collaborating classroom. Kittle calls the “Order of Literature” a “reading journey,” which means that books are not mutually exclusive and desire to be connected and studied for their messages. Buzzing books quickly is all good but teachers have to expect a high understanding of content dissection.
Chapter nine of Kittle’s book goes beyond the classroom to incorporate the entire school. This is done through what is called a “Schoolwide Reading Break,” where four days a week the school will break, as a unit, for twenty minutes of silent reading. One of the goals of schoolwide reading, Kittle says, is “to develop the capacity for sustained, focused attention” and to “invite students” into the reading world rather than coerce them sharply.
If you don’t practice you get worse. I know if I quit reading and writing for more than a week, I totally leave the mindset and it takes awhile to reform some of the skills I gained. Some books, writing techniques, and knowledge will stick but much of it goes into hibernation. This is what summer can do to a student; set them back in their writing and reading growth. It is paramount for educators that students at least leave school with summer reading and writing goals. This will help catch up time in the fall, and brings students back to school ready to talk about books. Kittle suggests setting up reading groups in the summer at local community centers. Kittle gives us a summer reading goal that stuck with me: “Challenge kids to read three books by one author so they can speculate on a writer’s growth or read three books from a similar time period or analyze the prejudices and unspoken values in a series of fantasy novels.” I would call these master key reading goals. For me, reading in series form (not an actual series, though sometimes) can spark substantial insights into writing technique and philosophy. It really pulls me down a specific alley, and helps me to understand other writing alleys because I’m fully engrossed in an author or time period. Kittle has rewarding summer reading advice, and that advice is to go somewhere with a plan rather than float around with varied books (though that is not a bad idea either).
It is a moot point here at the end of the semester, but Kittle succeeded in giving inspiring advice to me once again with this week’s readings. My main takeaways are to open a classroom to the world of themes, connect books across time, and spread the love of reading to the summer season.