Earlier this week I wrote about my love/hate relationship with series. I found myself, once again, stuck in the doldrums of YA series. There was nothing fresh about my reading because all I did was read one book after another that continued a series I had already started. I’m happy to report that I have sailed out of the doldrums, but more about that in a later post.
For now, I want to talk about my students. On Wednesday after we finished round three of state tests, I had the opportunity to just sit and have a conversation with my students. I haven’t had this opportunity in quite some time since I’ve been hosting a student teacher. On Wednesday afternoon, I found myself alone with my seventh graders for the first time in 3 months. Furthermore, they were a bit spent from testing all morning. So when they came into the classroom, I had them sit down, pull out their independent books, and start reading. They read for only a few minutes. I just wanted them to center themselves more than anything. At the end of their reading session, I had them discuss their books with their friends. Pretty standard stuff.
Afterwards, I asked if anyone wanted to talk about something they’ve read. One gregarious young man (the same young man who complained that they had to stop reading because he “just got to a good part”) held up Torn by Margaret Peterson Haddix and strongly urged everyone in the room to read not just Torn but the entire series, which begins with Found. I will admit I haven’t read the series, but I saw this as my opportunity to probe the class about series. (And after his strong recommendation, I will most likely add this to my reading list.)
My 20 seventh graders told me pretty much what I already knew. However, I did get some numbers for you, my readers. Of the 20 students in this class, and yes, I know this is a small sample, only 1 of the students did not like reading series. This young man – I’ll call him Sam – didn’t like series for the same reasons I’m feeling beaten down by series – he doesn’t like to have to commit himself to 5 or 7 books. Sam said that he preferred to read books about a particular topic like World War II, and then when he got tired of that topic after 1 book or 5, he could move on instead of feeling like he had to read every book in the series.
Sam impressed me. Not because he and I were of like mind, but because he, a seventh grader, was able to so clearly articulate what he liked and didn’t like about reading. More specifically, Sam doesn’t consider himself a reader, but he knows how to choose a book.
The rest of the students shared how much they love series, and best of all they supported their opinion! There were two overarching reasons giving for reading series. First, my readers said they liked not having to decide what to read next. Second, they liked being able to reconnect with the characters and fall right into the series. As I listened to these reasons being stated over and over again, I realized this is why I also loved series when I was young – why I read all the Little House books and poured through every Anne book LM Montgomery wrote.
We had such a rich and insightful conversation about books and reading. One that, IMHO, teachers and adults should have with kids more regularly, I felt good about sending them off to the summer in 7 weeks time. I trust that at least one-third of them will read more than the required summer reading. They shared what they like about books and what they don’t. What authors do that get them really mad. For example, if you are writing a series, each book needs to be fresh, not “more of the same.” The kids expressed a lot of frustration at books that just repeated the action of the previous book. I won’t name any names, but a certain young wizard came up a lot here.
When they came to class on Friday (I meet with them every other day), they asked my student teacher if they were going to do anything in language arts. She gave them a stern look, and one of the boys said, “Like last class, we just sat around and talked.” The kids looked at each other and smiled.
Another kid said, “That was cool.”
A third, “It was really fun.”
My student teacher turned to me puzzled, so I asked the class what they learned from the discussion, and not-surprisingly they were able to recount what we talked about, which wouldn’t have happened when we read The Pearl. I asked them if they thought the class was important.
An astute young man looked up and said, “We were learning, but it was really fun at the same time. We need to have more classes like that.”
Well said, my young scholar. Well said.
Until next time… See YA!