Summer Series of Saves: Tea with Bears (or the hard sell)


Never enough time…

Planning and shaping students’ reading lives–I have some concerns. Selfish, muddy concerns.

Donalyn Miller’s tweet about ill-defined independent reading prompted my own wondering about the basics: what is are the differences and connections between instructional and independent reading? A while back I wrote this blog post challenging those notions, too:  How to Survive a Bear Attack

And, the notion of leveling texts also seems outdated, or at least considered revised:

Here is the concern: there are four modules in my new district that are required. We, teachers, have some leeway concerning how, but not the what. My goals are to embrace the curriculum with courage and creativity, so bear with me while I ask some tough questions this beautiful Sunday morning:  what do we do when we’re faced with teaching books we don’t like? My plan is to read the books anyway and be honest with students about when we don’t have a choice, and how to navigate around it.

Four texts were chosen for my students. I have every confidence and assumption the texts are chosen by hardworking and mindful educators. I am wondering how I’m going to cooperate, comply and flourish with a scripted reading program, though, since for years I’ve had full choice over the texts I bring to the classroom. I have always looked for engaging, relevant, diverse, inclusive and popular texts: sometimes it worked, sometimes not. But what if I don’t want to read it? How do I sell it then?

The four books for the year are:

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

This one looks right up my alley: a short verse novel, accessible and easily paired with Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed and other novels/graphic novels.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Now this one I’m having trouble with. I get it, and I see and wholly understand why many love narratives such as these. (Think of The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown and others like these. Although for the life of me can’t really figure out how How the Light We Cannot See got in there.) There were a few books I could not finish in the book club I used to frequent (another casualty of time and politics, and my big mouth), and Boys was up on the list. I think I read five pages. I don’t know what it is that I don’t care about personal boy-to-manhood sagas with war as the backdrop. It feels like a failure of character on my part. I will force myself to read it, make notes, and come away with insight and knowledge I didn’t previously have. And that’s exactly what I’ll tell students.

But it still feels like badly cooked broccoli. Someone else put it on my plate and I must be polite.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is one of my adolescent favorites, and am looking forward to pairing it with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and articles about how TKAM needs to be critiqued. That’s we can love a book and still grow out of it.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

This one also looks like something I wouldn’t normally read but can get a lot out of, and plan a PBL around it. As I’m thinking about PBLs for next year, and after talking with my friend Sharon, I had this epiphany that the best PBLs stem from the lowest rung of Maslow’s hierarchy. Hear me out: our food, shelter, water, air, and reproductions are the foundation for all problems and conflicts: we were talking about her weaving unit, and how the labor of clothing fell to women, and now how we have an overabundance of clothes in landfills, etc.  I’m looking forward to reading this.

So how can I best disrupt texts and tow the line? 

And in the meantime, donations are welcome and encouraged. I need support for students to disrupt the canon, to add representation and love of literature. Please consider a small donation: Mrs. Love’s Project Lit DonorsChoose Project

Back to the original question: independent reading is choice, but it also includes fostering those discussions and excitement about what we’re reading. Instructional reading is the near-invisible guiding hand that helps students take risks with their reading, and nurture their reading lives. While I process this, read 180 Days, and curate companion texts, my challenge will be to focus on the most important instruction, day by day, week by week. With required reading texts this will be a challenge for me, but one I’ll do my utmost to succeed.

Any help or advice is welcome…