I love leading my students in a shared experience with one book. By “shared book experience” I mean when the whole class studies/reads/discusses/delves into and otherwise spends time with a single book together. While I understand that there are teachers who make this a misery I think there are others of us who do not. Done well, the shared book experience can be joyful, enjoyable, and even transcendent.
While I agree with the importance of choice for much of children’s school reading experience I think it shouldn’t be all of it. Connecting around a single book can be a magical and a special classroom experience too. Done well, such group literary experiences can be grand. So far this year my fourth graders have had shared experiences with Charlotte’s Web (which they each read on their own), Cosmic (read to them), and When You Reach Me (ditto). Very soon we will be starting a study of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and toward the end of the year they will all read and explore The Wizard of Oz. None of these shared experiences keep them from their own reading. What they do is provide my students with another sort of reading experience — one where a group becomes connected and engaged in a special shared time with a book.
Recently the New York Times Learning Network asked teachers, “What Are Your Favorite and Least Favorite Books to Teach?“ The responses are fascinating. Here are a few excerpts:
Nothing is more frightening than 9th graders jeering “4 legs good, 2 legs bad” over and over again. — Ms. K
Every single year that I teach British Literature and start with Beowulf, someone points out that “it is not even in English, Mrs. H!” And then it starts….and they fall under the spell of the story that has everything to do with what the Western world understands as a hero: They never tire of it, and I never tire of it. — healigan
Beowulf was just terrible to slog through. — Tim Howard Magyar
The Iliad is another great story to teach. I’m convinced that if a teacher loves a book, then it will probably be a good experience for the whole class. — Mrs. Law
Every year The Odyssey seems to be the book kids love and remember the most. As most comments have thus far noted, the books that go over best are the ones loved by the teachers, and The Odyssey is always my favorite. — Marc-Paul
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie has consistently reached students who don’t love reading. One girl said, “That’s the first book I’ve ever finished reading on my own.” (She’s in 9th grade) They connect with Junior, a boy who is not perfect and facing tough choices. It’s also a book I really love to read aloud because Junior’s funny. But reading aloud is also something I believe is important, even at the high school level. Reading is not an activity that should be relegated to parents and children; reading should be an activity we all share with each other to make characters come alive and connect with each other in a world that’s different from our day-to-day world. — Jessica Mills
If I’ve learned anything in teaching so far, it’s to get out of the book’s way. Some of the toughest books became some of the greatest hits with the kids once I let the book do the teaching and made it my job to help them get through the unfamiliar language or style. — Brian Tippy
In a larger sense, though, I’m convinced that it is not the texts, but rather the strange intersection of student, classmate, teacher, and text that make a course truly transformative for a student. There is no magical “right” text; rather, each teacher and each new class bring with them different possibilities for that intersection. Certainly, some texts are more flexible than others, but there are so many wonderful and important texts out there that I think it behooves the teacher to try to make that intersection happen. — Matt