How to get kids reading

At the beginning of the school year I like to have a book talk with my students -where I share a bunch of the YA books I’ve read over the summer.  I find it’s a good way to model some different ways to talk about books instead of the usual;

“I liked it.”

“It was okay.”

“It was dumb.”

So I talk about plot and characters and genre, stuff like that.  Sharing the books I read is always a bit tricky, because some of them are books I can’t really lend.  I tend to read more YA aimed at the 14-17 set, and I teach 13 year-olds.  I didn’t used to think there was a big difference but there definitely is in terms of the big 3!  That’s drugs, sex and alcohol.  Much more of these in the older YA books.   I found this out the hard way when I lent my copy of Looking for Alaska to a student, only to have her father march the offending book (full of drinking and experimenting with oral sex) into my principal’s office.

My parents never censored what I read.  So I suppose I was a little surprised at his horror.  But I understand.  (After all, my parents also used to take us to nude beaches.)  Some kids are more sheltered than others and some parents want more control over what their kids read.  (As a side note, I think the way sexuality is explored in Looking for Alaska is brilliant and not at all gratuitous.  Great book -read it!)

So even though I don’t necessarily lend the stuff I read, I do talk about it and always make sure to mention that it’s available at the public library.  Because even though I can’t lend the physical book out, there’s nothing more enticing to a 13 year old than being told a book is “dangerous”.  Or that the content is too risque for their teacher to lend out.  I pat the book lightly, talk about how good it is, and then slide it to the side and watch them stare hungrily at the forbidden fruit.

I had this experience this year with Matt De La Pena’s book Ball Don’t Lie.  This book has great voice and a story that most of my suburbanite kiddos would find somewhat shocking, exciting, and enlightening.  I was especially excited because it has a male protagonist and a basketball focus.  So it sits on my “special” shelf where I hope it will entice some of my more reluctant readers to go get a library card.

Back to School

When I rule the world Halloween candy will not appear in the supermarket in August, just as Back To School ads will not appear on television in July.  Until then, we’ll all have to suffer.  It’s also around this time of year that the media feels the need to inundate us with stories about the latest studies showing that there are absolutely no correlations between anything about teachers and anything about test scores.   The latest one I heard about was that the amount of education a teacher has (masters, phd, etc) does not correlate with student test scores.  When will the world wake up and realize that good teaching is not and never will be quantifiable?

Good teaching is much more like a recipe than an equation.  It’s like the recipes my Great Aunt Bert used to “share” when she would leave out key ingredients, or change quantities so that you could never make yours as good as the original.

A recipe for a good teacher includes:

A lot of love mixed with structure and boundaries.

Limitless energy and enthusiasm.

A true passion for learning as well as imparting new information.

Patience and more patience.

A sense of humor whisked in every step of the way.

And a dash of charisma.

(Content knowledge and advanced degrees are optional and can be added at any time.)

Correlate that with your damn test scores!

A trial separation

Before you get all hot and bothered worrying about my home life – this is a post about writing.  I started to write a post earlier this summer about how committing to write a novel is like committing to a relationship.

Your first 15-30 pages are like the early dating phase.  Everything is exciting and new and of course you haven’t hit any of the relationship pitfalls that befell you in earlier relationships.  These characters have depth and complexity!  This plot is cruising along, exciting and well structured.  The dialogue zings at every line!

Around page 80-100 the doubts begin.  I think it starts with boredom.  Is is always going to be like this?  When do the good and fun parts happen?  It wasn’t like this in the beginning….

This is when you really have to buckle down.  This is when you remind yourself of why you started writing this novel in the first place; you remind yourself of those fine characters, and the excellent pacing.  You go back and re-read your favorite moments from those first 15-30 pages.

Normally I would advise any writer, myself included, to finish what you start.  Not to doubt, but to keep on trucking because you don’t have anything to revise until you have at least completed that shitty first draft.  But something felt different this time.  With my other works in progress I kept on slogging when things got tough because I felt truly connected to these characters, dedicated and committed to telling their story.  This time, not so much.  I like what I’ve written so far, but perhaps I’m not as in love as I need to be to continue doing the work.  So this novel and I are having a trial separation.  It’s conveniently the beginning of the academic year, which is always a tough time to get any writing done.  We’re taking a break – a couple weeks, maybe a month and then I’ll see if I really want to be in this relationship.  Because truthfully anything that occupies this much of my time and thoughts is, in fact, a relationship.

In the mean time I’m doing some other fun essay type projects on the side….ooh on the side, what a hussy I’ve turned out to be!?