It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I stumbled into my favorite young adult book so far this semester with “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers.  The technique of story is so unique in this book it is impossible to dislike.  Just reading this book suggests the many ways authors can play around with story, and is entertaining on that level alone.  Within his creative technique, which I will explain in brief later, Myers presents a somber commentary on the justice system which at times can fail for many reasons.

In “Monster” Steve Harmon is sixteen and on trial for murder.  The boy can’t cope with the situation he is in; primal fear of prison is abundant.  So, in order for Steve to make sense of the situation he finds himself in he creates a movie.  Steve is very good at this, and before the trial he was working on a film for school.  During Steve’s trial he begins the entire script.  This book is written like a play, but includes terms of film such as CU (close up), MS (middle shot), LS (long shot), etc.  These film terms help out immensely with capturing imagery and emotion of scene.  Steve will use these techniques of film script to portray the action taking place inside the courtroom, the prison, and personal flashbacks  At the end of every scene, Steve includes his own inner thoughts on the days proceedings.  It’s just fantastic technique.  It would be a great way of teaching students to write more creatively about scene.  Myers moves the camera in this work, literally, by telling you he is doing it.  While this would get old after awhile because it is too blatant, it works like magic in this book.

The plot of the story is pretty touching.  If you are a person to like any writing or movies that deal with prisoner exoneration, and court room trials, then this is the young adult book for you.  Steve is standing trial for something he didn’t do; only the circumstances of his day-to-day life have landed him here.  But he is here, and he has to fight the image of who the prosecution and jury thinks he is, a criminal.  This book includes heavy commentary on the reasoning process existing in a courtroom and how the principles of law might not have the heart of a sixteen year old boy in the subtext.  Well, Myers knows this too, and he pins the desires of a young boy to be free against an ardent prosecution calling for “justice.”  This book includes unreliable criminal testimonials in abundance, touching family visits to the prison, and prejudicial thoughts and processes that exist in community and in the courtroom.  The title “Monster” deals with labels, and how Steve may never escape his even if he is proven innocent.


The Drive to Read

The four readings presented to us this week all had the common theme of motivation; specifically, how to motivate young adult readers.  So, how is this goal accomplished?  Well there are a numerous amount of methods, but one constant method is readers’ choice.  Giving the students the ability to choose their books is a sure fire starting method of inspiring life long readers.  This article from “Three Teachers Talk” breaks down the advantages of allowing students to choose the books they would like to read, especially in advanced placement English courses.  By allowing students to choose, it encourages better reading and writing workshops, in some instances, if not most.  In a middle and high school level students desire the need for independence, and by allowing them to choose what they want to read it places the power in their hands.  They feel a part of the process, and if anybody feels they are an integral part of a system, they are going to participate more.

Teachers should encourage and motivate students right out of the gate to read, and there are many ways to do this.  The best method is through praise.  Any student wants positive feedback on things they have done well.  As soon as a student reads a book, teachers should not immediately push and drive them forward to the next book.  Instead, reflect and engage with the student on what they learned from the book, how it made them feel, and how it gave their life meaning.  This process of engaging with a student once they have read a book is called “book talk.”  It consists of many different levels of teacher-student engagement and is outlined by Phyllis Hunter in her professional paper. Hunter says it is all about intrinsic motivation and I completely agree.  Intrinsic motivation is simply a hunger to learn with the reward being self realization, enlightenment, and the development of professional reading and writing skills.

Students need to be motivated to read, but without the heavy burden of reading goals.  Some students will be able to handle heavy reading lists with anticipation, but other students will see it as another arduous task.  This goes back to knowing your students’ methods of learning.  If it is necessary to take it one book at a time, then do that.  If the one step at a time method is used then the teacher needs to be able to recommend an array of texts that fit the personality and interests of the student.  Hence, teachers need to be readers and have a diverse inner catalogue.  For example, I am terrible when it comes to following reading lists because I get lost in the enormity of it all.  Therefore, I pick and book and just go without knowing what the next book will be.  This also keeps my reading life loose and free, and can be tied directly to the motivation that comes with student choice.  More important than setting reading lists and goals, is to track the progress that is being made.  By tracking progress, teachers can encourage and give positive feedback on the results in front of them.

Know your students, know what their interests are, and allow them to develop the intrinsic motivation to read.  This development comes through sound recommendation, great reading and writing workshops, and most importantly, positive feedback and encouragement for all students.  Have fun with the entire process, because if reading is only one thing, it is fun.


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I read a Coretta Scott King Award Winner last week entitled “When I Was The Greatest” by Jason Reynolds.  I hope some other people in class have an opportunity to read this story and check it off our book bingo sheet.  If I was to say one thing about the book, it would be simply be “it’s a good story.”  The narrative is never stagnant and action is happening regularly, keeping everything fresh and alive.


This book covers inner city culture and the joys and struggles of the protagonist, Ali.  The book is told in the first person.  The main theme of the story is loyalty, and the extremes people go to to prove it, even if it proves detrimental for themselves.  This book arrives at the question, “When do we let go of unhealthy friendships?” or  “How do we solve our friends and family?”  Ali is a young teenager, fifteen, in Brooklyn living with his mother and sister.  Soon enough, conflict in the book arises when two brother move in next door with their mother.  Ali forms a friendship with the two brothers, Noodles and Needles (the book uses nicknames for everyone).  Needles has likes to knit to keep his turrets under control, Noodles likes to draw comics, and Ali likes to box.  Even though Needles is the brother with a “disability” it is clear that Noodles is going to be the one to drag the other two down, but not in the traditional sense of drugs and crime.   The book centers around the preparation for an exclusive party, and the fifteen year old boys are somehow admitted, and this is where the serious conflict arises.  I won’t give the entire book away but it does not disappoint.

If you want to know more about inner city culture for young adults then I would suggest this book.  Also if you want to study writing and how to develop “setting as its own character” then this book is for you.  The book also offers great commentary on the disability of Needles and how the brotherhood of Needles and Noodles is bound to fail without intervention.  The book is a great guide for young adults on the importance of family, friends, and hobbies over being drug down into the muck of a life of crime and depravity.

Social Media and Reading

I’ve had a tough time finding many articles on this topic.  I’ve also found it difficult to track down teen reading circles on various social media sites.  I’m of the group that would say social media doesn’t inspire teen readers to read as much as other methods, nor does it necessarily organize a reader’s life.  But, and I say but, this week’s research has opened me up to a few new avenues of thinking on this topic.  The main takeaway is that social media can certainly promote reading, offer an organized gathering point for various book clubs, and actually help square away a reader’s life to an extent.  The full participation of my book club this semester has been through Skype, so I can’t bash all forms of social media.  The definition of social media is wide and can include sites such as this one, WordPress.  Therefore, the vast connectivity of this encompassing topic can be difficult to wrangle with.  I found a very good young adult book club on Goodreads, but it was open to everyone and not just teen readers.  Teenagers should be exposed to social media sites that promote reading, like the book club at Goodreads.

There are also many interesting booky hashtags on Instagram that promote a reading community through interesting and stunning photography.  Now do sites like Instagram promote reading on their own? No.  They have to be used properly in order to be effective in a sub goal of reading promotion.  The same goes for Pinterest, which has to be streamlined effectively in order to promote a reading environment.

Don’t let my cynical nature on this topic let any readers stray from a certain point.  This point is that social media can be a haven for teen readers who want to be a part of an online reading community, and teachers should push and push to promote it.  But it can never replace face to face interaction with others who love to read.  It can supplement it well, however.  Blogs are a great way for teenagers to get their voice heard, and can help them join an online community of similar and different individuals.  When I become a teacher I will be an advocate for teens to not be shy about sharing their reading life, and how social media is a good place to express their reading life, if used effectively.

Bookish Behavior #yalitclass

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.



It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #yalitlcass

I’m really happy that I read David Levithan’s “Every Day” this past week.  It is one of those books that asks big questions while delivering an easy to read narrative.  Some of the questions are still blurry to me, but this book was written in a unique technique which enhanced my reading comprehension ability.

This book answers the question of what it would be like to wake up in a different body…every day of your life.  Imagine you having no family, no friends, and no material possessions.  It’s just you.  Naturally the protagonist in this book is a bit sad at this fact, having reached the age of sixteen with nothing but scattered memories.  He wants to create memories for himself, he want to create a life.  So this character, who is named “A,” is floating along until he meets Rhiannon (a top five Fleetwood Mac song, no doubt), and the two have to figure out how to love one another in a world where A changes to another body every day.  It’s actually quite sad, but the side stories of how A helps the person whose body he finds himself in keep the narrative interesting.  For instance, he helps a young woman get help in order to prevent suicide, and helps various substance abuse users abstain from drug usage.  All of these are in line with young adult tropes.  The best part of the book is the character development of A.  As the book rolls along he realizes that he can’t be with Rhiannon and he has to find a way to avoid that pain while not abandoning Rhiannon.  This is where the climax of the book is held, and it does not disappoint.

Overall, this book is great simply because it has a fresh writing technique.  Very rarely can an author create a character within flat character, but this is what Levithan does in “Every Day.”  Usually I will be apprehensive in suggesting books to people because I know they won’t read it, but this is a book that everyone should read once.  It’s on various top young adult books of all time lists and for good reason.

Practice Diverse Reading #yalitclass

Diversity in young adult literature, and all literature, is important as a society and for individual readers.  As was discussed last week, diverse individuals need to be able to see a mirror in the books they read.  In addition to individual readers, our society needs to recognize and read diverse books because it is the reality of our culture.  Only reading one area of literature can lead to some pretty extreme confirmation bias which is a deadly enemy of social progress.  Diversity in reading can mean different things for different people but I think we can all agree that it is inclusive reading.  By reading diverse authors and books with diverse characters we are including everyone in the indelible practice of reading and writing.  Of course everyone has their favorite authors and perhaps they wouldn’t be categorized as “diverse,” but anyone can have go-to authors and still practice diverse reading.

Up to this point in this course I have read a fair amount of diverse works.  I’ve read a Hispanic verse novel, a Native American novel, and a few European authors.  This is a start, but I will have to boost my intake of diverse works in the second half of the semester.  Our book bingo guide is a great tool for this and I look forward to the opportunity to read diverse works.  There are a few goals I have set after reading the blogs that are centered on diversity.  Without question I will be reading a book centered around a character with a disability.   Also I have some Walter Dean Meyers coming my way as I will check out some of his books from the library after reading a few of his fantastic blogs on the importance of the “mirror” effect in reading.

All of this talk about reading diverse works is not just a procedure that people need to do.  It really should become a reading habit, because the benefits are paramount.  It is one of the easiest ways to connect with the “entire” world around you.  Someone might ask the question of how does a reader connect?  The clear answer is the author.  More often than not authors of all different genres will write what they know about, and that knowledge will be reflected in their writing.  Regardless if the work is fiction, any author will probably tell you fiction is still based in truth.  So, reading diverse works connects you to the world of an author, a world the author probably has lived.  This is all about perspective, and authors have the gift of giving a tasty reading perspective of where they think importance lies.  The more a reader soaks in this importance in diverse works, the better reader and person they will become.  On top of all of this it is important for diverse people to publish diverse books because they in most cases will be able to reflect the diverse culture they have experienced better than someone who hasn’t, but is still writing about it.

In closing, how can teachers implore students to read diversely?  The first solution is to put diverse books on the shelf, an easy action.  The other way to get students to read diverse books is to have students complete various assignments and passion based projects based on three different diverse works (three is an example).  Another way can be to assign diverse books, but this may take away from the students desire to read.  Students could be assigned a rotation of free will too.  Meaning they would float from genre to genre with an assigned amount of included diversity within those genres.  The best way to get students to read diversely is to have a teaching philosophy that promotes diversity and to have fun, diverse reads on the shelves.

I’ll leave you with this video of young adult author John Green who delivers a great summary of all the things we have been discussing when it comes to diverse reading.