books · education · literacy · reading · teaching

The Reluctant Reader

As the new school year begins I find myself preparing to face three classes of reluctant readers.  I am sure many of them will be feeling some anxiety and pressure as they enter my class for the first time this coming Tuesday.  They won’t be alone.

After three years away from a traditional classroom, I will be returning to a regular timetable, predictable hours and a steady prescribed curriculum.  I am nervous and anxious too!  However that being said, I am looking forward to connecting with my grade 10s and 12s who will be motivating me each day to get up and help them to find their writing and reading groove.

In my seventeen years of experience as a classroom teacher I have seen many changes especially when it comes to Ministry expectations and trends in education.  One thing that has not changed is the emphasis on reading and writing strategies; only the strategies have gotten smarter and better considering the teenage brain.  Research tells us that teenagers need sleep and a lot of it (9-10 hours a night) to function and pay attention in class.  For a classroom teacher and their students, the struggle is real.  I have to motivate and encourage those sleepyheads to read and write as early as 8:30 a.m.!  I’m in for a challenge because the students are already coming into the class with some pre-existing issues.  From self-esteem, to functional literacy skills and learning disabilities I will have my hands full.

A few strategies that I have picked up along the way are from author Marilyn Reynolds.  Reynolds first came to my attention at the beginning of my career as I was pursuing additional qualifications in Reading and Library.  Her approach to education is very refreshing as she has over 30 years’ experience working with at-risk youth.  Her book I Won’t Read and you Can’t Make Me: Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers published in 2004 is still relevant today.  Reynolds has helped me tremendously when working with both at-risk students and those who are unmotivated.

Some strategies she uses with success (and that I have adapted myself) include:

  • Respecting students including their experiences, attitudes and choices regarding what they choose to read
  • Helping students become accountable for their actions
  • Practicing reading and writing each day

I found that all the above strategies are incredibly helpful but the respect piece is most important for classroom success.  In my years as a teacher I have learned that all these young people come from all walks of life and each person has their own story to tell (or not).  This influences what is available to read in class.

IMG_2788One of the strategies that I have implemented is to visit the library on a scheduled and predictable basis to refresh the book collection and change up our day-to-day scenery.  I have students who only gravitate to graphic novels while others ask for specific authors that reflect a particular demographic like Sister Souljah’s Midnight series.  Other students have asked for only non-fiction books like the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Series or yearly National Geographic Almanacs.  I have also included Reynolds series of novels that she wrote that are geared towards young people including titles like Telling and Love Rules.

Further I found that timely feedback is so important to a reluctant reader and writer.  Whether they have just finished their first journal entry or written a paragraph, my feedback is key.  Students also like to be read to no matter how old they are.  I will often choose a novel or non-fiction piece that we can read a little each day.

I had tremendous success several years ago when I chose to read the story of Steven Truscott to my class.  At the time we were studying In the Heat of the Night by John Ball and I wanted the students to see that injustice can happen at any time and to any person.  Real Justice: Fourteen and Sentenced to Death by Bill Swan was the perfect pick for that class at that time.  Because I was working with so many students who had experienced troubled times like an arrest, they could relate to story.  They were particularly outraged at the sentence Truscott received because of his age.  I heard many of them exclaim, “That’s my brother’s age!” or “I was fourteen when I was accused of…”  We followed up the unit with some media footage of Truscott who was acquitted 48 years later.

As I get ready to merge back into the classroom I hope to implement some if not all of these strategies with my three classes.  The appeal to make it through the doors each morning with acceptance, respect and a treasure trove of reading materials that they may learn to love.

 

books · death · library · NYC · reading

Some have Disney World. I have The Library Hotel.

Customs officer:  “Anything to declare Miss?”  Me:  “Just books.  Mountains and mountains of books.”

“Book lovers never go to bed alone…” is the tag line for the amazing Library Hotel.  I had the thrill of visiting their NYC location in March.  I wanted to do something spectacular and memorable for my milestone birthday.  And what better way to celebrate (for me!) than to visit this beautiful boutique hotel in Midtown Manhattan.  From the planning stages to the booking stage, I was pumped.  This small hotel boasted rooms organized by the Dewey Decimal system along with many other perks like a 24/7 Reading Room and fresh continental breakfasts served each morning.  The staff was delightful and so helpful as my husband and I organized our few days away.  We wanted to make the most of NYC while we were there.

Although both of us had previously visited NYC, it had been a while.  The hotel was thoughtful providing weather forecasts each evening for the next day, turn-down service and little touches like a card for my birthday with truffles.  Another perk of the hotel was the offer of FREE BOOKS in the lobby while we were guests there.  Although the copies were advanced editions, it was a unique perk of the hotel.

We were close to many places and favoured to walk as the weather had yet to turn to the nasty snow storm.  As we explored the city we found little book shops tucked away, the New York Public Library, The Strand Bookstore and Grand Central Station.  The streets were clean and the people friendly as I had remembered.  It wasn’t Las Vegas or any other spectacular holiday destination like Disney World but as a book lover, it was incredible!

We stayed in the Communication Room which housed its own library of books to read.  In my feature photo for this post, many of those books are photographed.  The rooms are small but cosy and we would read in our room or move into the Reading Room just to relax and unwind after a day exploring this iconic city.

Now let’s get to the books!  At the time of our trip I was reading Opening Heaven’s Door: What the Dying May Be Trying to Tell Us About Where They’re Going by Patricia Pearson. Certainly a heavy subject on a birthday holiday but it happened to be my book club’s pick for the month.  I found snippets of time to squeeze in chapters here and there.  I did like the book as it was well researched while connecting it to the author’s own personal experiences with death.  I certainly feel more educated about near-death-experiences (NDE) and how both secular and religious people can open their minds to experience what happens after we die.  From a personal perspective I witnessed much of what the author was exploring as my own father faced his final days in hospice three years ago.  The book offered me some comfort as I looked back on that sorrowful time yet I imagine this book is not for everyone as some of the nonagenarians in my book club opted; understandably; not to read the book.

As we prepared to leave my idea of paradise on a snowy March morning, I left without regret.  The Hotel Library was one of the most inviting hotels I have ever stayed in.  For all you book lovers like me, it is a must-see.  I look forward to visiting again or exploring one of their other locations around the globe.