This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.
A non-travel-related post today, since I'm in one place for a few days and have a chance to catch up on my RSS feeds.
I subscribe to the New York Times's Education feed, and I've noticed recently that, like the Times itself, it's constantly reinvented to keep readers engaged. I've mentioned these materials here a few times before, but thought I'd point any newcomers there to check out what kinds of goodies they have, including a few new ones.
Nothing validates students' writing quite like seeing it published for an audience that reaches beyond school, and nothing gets them paying attention to how well they express themselves like knowing that someone other than their English teacher will be reading and passing judgement on their writing. In the past at our school, we've often encouraged students to write letters to the editor (a capsule version of the "complaint letter" I mention in my previous post). This kind of interaction with a major newspaper can take it one step further.
You might want to start with this forum, inspired by the death of J. D. Salinger, in which students are asked about the books that have mattered to them most. Start by asking the students to bring in a childhood book from home or from the library, and then to share in small groups why they chose those books. You'll hear lots of exclamations of excitement and recognition ("Ohmygawd, I loved that book!"), and if you're lucky you'll get some original choices, especially from students from different cultural backgrounds.
Move into a class discussion that includes ideas about why books become favorites, how tastes are created and change over time, etc. You might want to follow up by asking students to bring in more recent favorite reads, making sure they know that you are not fishing for compliments about the class's reading list! Then, send them to the Times page to generate their own responses to the forum.
Mokoto Rich's essay about readers' personal relationships with books might add to the dialogue. You could spin off into a "literacy memoir" piece (PDF). You could ask students to provide recommendations to the library at your school or in your community, or create mini-reviews to be displayed there (a neat little project I saw at Phillips Exeter Academy involved graduating students creating bookmarks for the school library, with capsule reviews of their favorite books). Ask students to write an essay providing arguments as to why a book should (or shouldn't) be taught in school, or what constitutes a canon and whether such a concept is beneficial.
Who knows---you might discover some new books for yourself or for your classroom, instead of the "same old same olds" that make it onto school reading lists year after year.
And then you might want to go register your own opinions about books you enjoy teaching (or don't!) here.
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