Happy New Year…here’s to starting over with middle grade readers
Guest contributor Jody looks at welcoming middle grade readers back to school in January.
I ended 2011 in the middle or near the end of too many projects. It’s always a dilemma to me; do I start fresh, trying to re-energize and engage the kids all over, or do I carry on from where we left off and show them the value and necessity in finishing what we start?
I did a little of both. When holidays started, I had only read 1/3 of a book called Lady in a Box, by Ann McGovern. It ties in so nicely to the holiday season, giving, and caring for others. It’s a great way to connect the kids to the outside world and to learn a number of powerful strategies in reading and writing. I was also reading Lemonade War, by Jacqueline Davies, as my read aloud. As well, the students were each in 1 of 5 reading groups, which were not going well. In addition to all of this, we were reading an assortment of Christmas picture books because the kids were creating their own children’s stories.
It’s difficult to walk away from some things, but on the other hand, if the students aren’t getting enough out of it, or if the teaching is not having the effect you thought it would, sometimes it’s better to cut and run. So, I fast-tracked Lady in A Box because the story is worthwhile and the message applies to life in general and not just a season. One down. I took the kids out of their reading groups because it was not going at all the way I planned and it was putting some of the kids off reading. Two down. I also gave up on Lemonade War because we have been talking about this book since September and many of the kids had read it. Three down. Then, I had to re-evaluate what it is I want and need the kids to know and decide how to help them get there. Eliminating the first two things was the first step.
The second step was to revitalize and re-energize the students. January is a new year, a fresh start, and in many ways, another September. We have to re-teach and review routines and expectations and we have to “hook” them again. I needed something that would immediately draw them in and help me re-work my book club as well. I found and started Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I’m going to have to do a whole post dedicated just to Inkheart because it’s so good. For now though, I won’t go into too much detail about the novel. Just let me say that it has given my new year a definite push in the right direction.
The kids are are hooked on the novel (some have read it but are being awesome and not giving any information away). They’re settling into routine quicker because, in order to squeeze in a whole chapter each day, I have to start the read aloud right after recess. In addition to this, they’re already, in just four days, becoming more proficient at recognizing and asking lower level questions. What a great start to 2012 in the classroom!!
So, while I was sorry to put Lemonade War aside because I hate to leave things unfinished, I think it’s important to recognize when we need to do just that. Some things just don’t work the way you want them to. Part of learning and being successful, for us and for the students, is knowing when you need to step back and try another route. Sometimes giving up one thing in favor of spending your time and energy on something else is a better way to achieve your goal. For me, I gave up Lemonade War to allow for time to read Inkheart. I gave up my small book club groups to do whole group instruction, which is turning out way better.
So, whether it’s giving up on something, trading off, or trying a completely different approach, the important thing is to keep the end in mind. In the end, I want students to be engaged in what we are reading, to be thoughtful writers, and to know that when something just isn’t working, it’s okay to try a different tactic. We learn by doing. Sometimes what we learn, is that we have to start over. Happy New Year.