Never has my complete and total geekdom served me so well as it has in these past few weeks. While I’ve just started to appreciate my nerdiness fully, it has been long in the making. For example, when I was in middle school, our family’s answering machine message included the phrase “May the Force be with you.” In case you’re imagining that I was mortified by this fact, let me add this–I was the one playing the Star Wars theme on my violin in the background.
So, as you can see, I have a history as a nerd, dork, geek…whatever you want to call us. What sets we citizens of a fandom apart from those who live outside of one is our unabashed love and adoration of whatever beautiful world we choose to immerse ourselves in. The beautiful world I happen to geek out about is the world of books.
A few weeks ago, as I munched on junky appetizers with fellow teachers during a happy hour, one of them asked me, “But seriously. How are you getting them to read?” She told me about students she’d been talking to who had already read two or three books this school year in my class, and expressed her shock that they were even doing “anything” for me.
Her question, while simply phrased, was a valid one–what exactly was I doing that was getting kids who “hated” books to pick one up–and finish it? And then actually tell people about it?!? I thought of what I was doing differently this year, and that’s when I realized–it’s the geeking.
There are only two really big differences as to how I structured my independent reading program this year vs. last year. One is a daily booktalk, and the other is illustrating my reading life beyond school. In previous years, I’d always allowed time for independent reading, provided easy access to a beautiful library of desirable books, and modeled my thinking as a reader in class. This year, though, I start every class with two booktalks. These are not staid speeches in which I summarize the plot and then move on, no–these are performances during which I share my own experiences with these books. I excitedly describe the scenario in which I (or a friend) read this book, and how it impacted me, and what I thought of it. Then I give a bit of the backstory and introduce them to the narrator’s voice by reading a carefully selected passage of the text. It’s amazing how quickly students will begin asking for the book–even kids who don’t love reading like I do (yet).
The second thing I’m doing differently is showing them my life as a reader. I tell them about bookclubs I’m in, friend them on GoodReads so they can see my extensive “currently reading” list, and put colorful book covers on my colorful door. I show them the wide variety of books I read–from teaching books to YA lit to general fiction–and I model the need for not just different genres, but different levels of difficulty in my reading. Columbine, I tell them, had to be followed up by the light, speedy 13 Little Blue Envelopes. It is incredibly impactful to them to hear that I spent my Monday night with their soccer coach, math teacher, and assistant principal talking about The Book Thief and eating German-themed food. When I talk about my reading life with my students, they become more comfortable talking about theirs in our reading conferences, and they slowly, miraculously begin to see themselves as readers too.
So, as summer slowly fades into fall here in wild and wonderful West Virginia, you can picture what I’ll be doing–reading amongst the autumn splendor…and then going to school to fangirl about it. It may sound simple, but it works. Geeking out about books is getting my students to enter the fandom of literacy, and I imagine my fellow teacher-reader-writer-fangirls–Amy in Texas, Erika in New York, and Emily in California–are seeing this as well. Their students are transforming too, a perfect mirror of the seasons, in all the corners of our compass.