Please help me welcome today's guest blogger, Deb Krygeris. Deb teaches sixth grade at Whittier School in Downers Grove, IL, all Blackhawks fans! E-mail her or follow her on Twitter.
My Most Important Job…
When I left a successful career 7 years ago to become a teacher, I had no idea that my “hobby” would become my most valuable tool for success in the classroom. I’ve always been a reader...that’s just who I am, who I’ve always been, and frankly, my reading life becomes more important to me the older I get. But what I find truly amazing is that in teacher ed programs (at least mine and the one my daughter is currently enrolled in) they don’t tell you the key to hooking students on reading, to helping students become lifelong readers, is to share your reading life with them.
As I began teaching sixth grade, I observed how a good book transformed my students. An author study of Jerry Spinelli’s works: Crash, Loser, Stargirl, Maniac Magee, Milkweed, and finally, Knots In My Yo-Yo String generated such excitement. Hands were flying in the air as we read Knots and my students made connections from Jerry’s life to scenes or incidents in his books. It was a race to see who could find the most connections! Student engagement and enthusiasm was unprecedented.
Read aloud become the most important time of the day. I raced through books to satisfy my students’ desire to read the next in the series: Andrew Clements’ Things Not Seen, Things Hoped For, and Things That Are; Kenneth Opel’s Airborne, Skybreaker, and Starclimber; Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains and Forge, and so many, many more. While interests and “right fit” novels changed every year with every new class, the enthusiasm and love for read aloud was consistent.
But, being a new teacher, I didn’t trust my instincts, I continued to try to teach the “required” curriculum using an anthology that was extremely challenging and useless for engaging readers. I was bored reading these stories, I couldn’t connect, but I didn’t take the hint. Instead, I tried to do it all-incorporate engaging, newly released novels and the required curriculum pieces. I felt crazed and can only imagine how my students’ felt!
Then along came Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. Finally an expert, experienced teacher verified what I knew in my heart: I needed to trust myself, my reading life, my book experiences, and share them with my students. I built my reading instruction around engaging, compelling novels, and watched my students take off. Students were writing and recording book reviews, conducting book talks, competing for books, begging me to purchase a book, and requesting time for independent reading - it was a teacher’s dream come true! Fast forward a few years and hundreds of novels later, and I know I’m building readers and my classroom’s reading culture is distinct and highly desired. Now as I read Donalyn Miller’s new Reading in the Wild and Ariel Sacks’ Whole Novels for the Whole Class, I have further affirmation that what I’m doing is the best thing for my students.
What do I see in my classroom now, seven years later? I hand out tissues to Allison, Grace, and Alyssa as they read Jo Knowles, See You At Harry’s, my summer read that I book talked and is now circulating quickly in the room. My two copies of Kate Messner’s Wake Up Missing, are “missing” somewhere among my kids and I’ll have to buy another if I want to read it soon! I had to beg Aidan to return House of Hades and promise to read it quickly over Thanksgiving break so Henry could have it when we return to school. Blake has already read 30 books this year and I’m challenged to find new recommendations for him. I’m begging Kelly to read Divergent because I need to talk about this series with someone I know will connect with it..
Seven years later, I’m also trying to spread the love of reading outside of my classroom. My school’s reading specialist and I developed a new district-wide reading competition, The Reading Games, (similar to Battle of the Books), to encourage reading quality books in our 3rd to 8th grade students. At last count, over 35 teams of 8 students are registered to compete in this inaugural event. Thankfully, we also have district administration that supports teacher initiatives like The Reading Games and encourages teachers to follow their instincts and “own” the curriculum. But, my most important job and frankly, the one I enjoy the most, is to continue to share my reading life with my students, to set that example, find the one book match to engage that reluctant reader, and maintain a distinctive, desirable reading culture in my classroom. Who could ask for a better job than this?
I totally agree, Deb! Thank you for sharing your experiences and for sharing your love of books!