An East Oakland Odyssey
Exploring the Love of Reading in a Small School
Elena Aguilar, ASCEND. Oakland, CA

boy reading
       
Overview
The Article
Literature Circles
Inquiry
Reading Lists
Contact & Bio
Reading Log

Favorite Student Books

Favorite Teacher Books

Why Read? Favorite Quotes

WHAT TO READ

“What was most important to me that I learned in Language Arts was how to pick a book to read.  To do this, I had to learn what kinds of books I like.  It took a long time but now I know what kinds of books I like and don’t like and I can almost always pick a book that I’ll really get into.”

                                                                        Claudio, Spring 2004. End of 8th Grade Reflections

At the beginning of 6th grade, many of my students were unable to articulate what kind of books they liked.  They did not know themselves as readers and did not know how to chose a book that they would enjoy.  Of course they didn’t like reading if the books they selected didn’t keep them up late into the night.

I love reading and I always have.  This is a passion that I shared with my students on a daily basis. I knew I had to model what it means to be a reader and to provide details of the nitty-gritty.  Over the years, I felt I was becoming a caricature as the informal time I allotted to tell personal stories was used up entirely by stories of my life as a reader.  I told them about reading in the bathtub until the water was cold; about getting in huge fights in my book club over a particular novel; about reading Harry Potter aloud with my husband.  They learned that my  grandmother was primary recommender for great literature, and about the long afternoons I spent in bookstores.  They learned why I read, what I read, and how I chose a book.

In an effort to be able to recommend good books to my students, I devoured all the young adult fiction I could.  I noted their reactions to my recommendations.  Some students hated books I had loved and recommended; others cherished them.  Over the years, I became expert at finding books that my students would like—both for the whole class and to individuals.  In addition, I taught them to be able to recommend books to each other and to recognize what they would like themselves.

One way of doing this was to have each student keep a Reading Log on which they recorded every book they read, the author, and genre.  Most important was the rating they gave the book, a number between 1-10 which reflected their overall opinion.  Students kept this list for the three years they were with me and referred back to it regularly.  They were able to use this list (data!) to see patterns in their reading experiences.  For example, they could identify authors who’s novels they always liked or they could point out a genre that they had never read.  Using this list, Chai quickly discovered that he loved fantasy.  Delia found that books written about young African American girls received her highest ratings. 

I also kept a list of the books that I read.  At times, students would look at it and exclaim, “you really read all those books?” Once in a while a student would refer to it as they sought out a good book to read.  On one occasion, Hector asked if he could borrow A Fine Balance from me because it had received a “10++++++” on my log.  I knew that this novel was way above his reading level and had to convince him to wait a couple more years to read it.  I was surprised at his disappointment.

At the beginning of 8th grade, my students used their logs to compile a list of their Favorite Student Books.  Many students couldn’t pick one book, so they decided they should list their top 4-5 books.  Although there was a diversity of interests in my classroom, my students overall favored realistic fiction which feature urban teenagers dealing with issues of violence, gangs, drugs, and family problems.  Their number one favorite book is That Was Then, This is Now by S.E. Hinton.  A runner up is the Hazelwood High Trilogy by Sharon Draper. 

Teaching my students how to chose books came in conjunction with discussing why they should read.  In 6th grade, my students created a long list of reasons to read, which they referred back to during the three years in my class.  This document, Why Read? was distributed to other students in our school and has been added to over the years. 

Creating readers is a long and complex process which involves having many discussions about why reading is important and how to choose what to read.  I found that in order to do this, I had to closely examine my own reasons for reading and how I select literature.  I had to reflect on my life as a reader and I had to share these reflections.  And I had to read—teen fiction, adult fiction and non-fiction, and teaching books.  I have created a short list of my Favorite Teacher Books which helped me create students who love to read.  I also collect Favorite Quotes about Books and Reading which I share with my students.