“If we as teachers truly want to support teens as readers, we must develop broad, deep, personalized book knowledge” (Buehler 2016 p. 73).
“Dr. Schmidt took my daughter who would only read because she had to, got to know her, figured out what she might like, and spent months going through book after book after book until she found the type of book that my daughter liked. She reads four to five books every week now and is an exceptional student because of Dr. Schmidt” (Davis, FRSD BOE Meeting 6/12/17).
“Matchmaker, Matchmaker, make me a match/find me a find/catch me a catch” (Harnick 1964).
I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave over my students’ heads, and POOF, just like that they would be readers. It doesn’t work that way. The magic wand is my library. The wave is my knowledge of books and the questions I ask my students: What was the last thing that you really LOVED reading? Why? (What was it about that book?)
Books can be a tough sell to middle school students. So many things compete with their time. We want to say it’s their electronics, but really, it’s not just video games and social media. Homework, sports, religious education, time with family all compete as much if not more for kids’ time and attention. Ask them. They’ll tell you. Sometimes just listening to what my students have to do or have planned for a weekend exhausts me.
But I know that it’s my job to nurture a reading life for them. One way to do that is to have, as Buehler says, “a broad, deep, personalized book knowledge.” So I read a lot. As much as I love to read adult fiction, my reading life is very heavily YA. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is some great YA out there (and there’s YA out there that I would have loved when I was 13 but no so much at 46). I get to know what my students like to read. I get to know my students (Pro-tip: to be a good middle school teacher you need to connect with your kids). I try to match books to my students. Sometimes I get it right; sometimes I don’t. If a student doesn’t like a book, that becomes an important conversation. What was it about that book? Over time, students begin to trust my recommendations and rely on my knowledge of books to help them become they reader they want to be. I know this because they tell me.
This is what my yearbook looked liked this year:
“Dr. Schmidt, Thank you so much for being an amazing teacher this year! You have given me a love of reading and writing that I didn’t even think was possible! I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher. Have a great summer!” (HS)
“Dr. Schmidt, Thanks for teaching me language arts this year. I learned more than I did any other year. I liked your book talks and I was inspired to read. I hope you enjoyed having me in class.” (CR)
“Dr. Schmidt, Thank you for being a great teacher. You got me to read much more.” KV
“Dr. Schmidt, Thank you for everything these last two years. And thank you for getting me into reading! Keep on being a great teacher.”
“Dr. Schmidt, Thanks for being such a lit* teacher. I was so lucky to have you for even a year. I enjoyed having conferences, mini-lessons, and storytimes with you. You have helped me grow in so many way. Thank you.” (WK)
“Dr. Schmidt, Thank you so much for teaching me these past 2 years. You’ve grown my love of reading and writing and I’m sure it’s going to come in handy next year. I’m going to miss you next year! Have an amazing summer!” (RA)
“Dr. Schmidt, I am so happy that I could have you for both 7th and 8th grade. Your class taught me so much about writing and I don’t know where I would be without you. I will greatly miss your library, book talks, conferences, and your class in general. Have a great summer.” (OG)
“Dr. Schmidt, Thanks for a great year. You made me realize that reading isn’t actually that bad. Have a good summer. I’ll see you soon.” (AL)
Notice the variations on a theme? So clearly my library, book talks, and book matchmaking had an impact.
But Buehler (2016) goes on to say, “Our matchmaking work, and our ways of talking about the matches we’ve made, must be context-specific, politically savvy, and respectful of the teaching that goes on around us…it gives us a stronger framework for our reading of YA literature and our selection of titles. It helps us become more strategic about choosing titles that meet our readers’ needs along multiple dimensions, and it prepares us to pitch our work with these books in ways that get various constituent groups on board with what we’re doing” (p. 74).
Next year, I want to continue to focus on the way reader’s workshop plays out in my classroom. What books do I offer children? How do I help them move up in complexity? How do book clubs fit in my room? What titles are offered? Why? How?
Usually when I start to think about implementing something new or implementing something old a new way, the questions surrounding implementation swirl around in my brain. I usually let those questions fester until they become something of a maelstrom which forces me to sit down look at all sides of what I want to do and then come up with a plan for implementation.
Notice conversing with a colleague is not part of this.
Notice I don’t talk about YA books with colleagues.
As a matchmaker, I can’t work alone. Yente in Fiddler on the Roofmat did not work alone. In order to perform her matches, conversations needed to take place with many different parties. In order for the right YA books to be used in my room conversations definitely need to take place.
“Matchmaker, Matchmaker/look through your book/ and make me a perfect match” (Harnick 1964).
Buehler shares the story of Carrie Melnychenko and her co-teacher Leslie DesJardins. In order to find the perfect match of YA literature for their class, they designed a chart to look at the books they were reading. Their notes and their conversations helped them design a class and canon that allows for texts to match their students’ reading lives and improve their reading abilities.
I can very easily create a chart, take notes, read deliberately in order to think more deeply about what I use in my class. However, if I really want to improve what I do, I need to find a colleague to be my book partner.
So Yente, do you have a match for me?
Buehler, J. (2016). Teaching reading with YA literature: Complex texts, complex lives. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
*Apparently, lit is their word for amazing, and they don’t mean as Mary Karr does in the title of her memoir.”