Guest Post: The Case for Teaching Reading in High School

cherry-blossoms-from-our-bedroom-window-april-2014As spring arrives, the cherry blossoms start to bloom, the daffodils open their petals towards the sun, and high schools across the country begin their own feverish rite of spring, end of course test intervention and remediation. Schools will hold after school opportunities to help students prepare for a reading test that they must pass. In my state, Virginia, if students don’t pass the test, they don’t graduate, the school’s graduation rate is affected, and accreditation is considered. All this is not to say that schools don’t want to do what is absolutely best for students, because we do. We know that a high school diploma can make the difference between a mediocre job and a career. But we don’t grant a high school diploma unless a student passes the reading test. The irony is that, undoubtedly, when we sit down with these students to help them prepare, we will be doing little reading at all.

What are the costs of not reading well? The Alliance for Excellent Education, estimates the cost in terms of lost wages over a lifetime due to low literacy skills is around $335 billion per year. According to Reading at Risk, a survey conducted by the National Endowment of Arts, there is a sharp divide in reading skills of incarcerated adults versus non-prisoners. On the flip side, those who read more for pleasure exercise and volunteer more. They even vote more. And students are not going to read more, are not going to become avid readers, if they are not reading. Students should be engaged in what they are reading in order to become more competent readers. Not surprisingly, reading more makes us better readers. The Department of Education reports that frequency of reading for pleasure correlates strongly with better test scores in reading and writing. Students who read outside of school see more vocabulary, reading comprehension, verbal fluency, and background knowledge growth, all of which are skills students need in order to pass the reading test. Right now, there is a decline in voluntary reading rates among teenagers while at the same time reading skills in schools remain stagnant or worsen. A required reading test is not the problem. Students graduating from high school should have the skills and strategies to pass the test. The problem, instead, is that in this era of high stakes testing and accountability, schools, divisions, and states have lost track of the original goal of the test, to ensure that all students who graduate from high school in the United States are competent readers. Instead, we are focused on teaching for and to a test.

According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), our country’s 4th grade reading scores are slowly moving up and are the highest they have been in the past 33 years. This is great news as it shows the achievement gap is shrinking with our elementary school population. Unfortunately, the numbers are much different for our adolescent learners. The 2013 average reading score for adolescents has gone down from the first assessment and remains unchanged since 2009. In Virginia, only 36% of eighth grade students scored at or above proficiency level on the NAEP reading test. Students with disabilities and English language learners are often struggling readers, and schools have a difficult time meeting accreditation as these subgroups continue to score poorly on state reading tests. In fact, the achievement gap among high school seniors with and without disabilities is growing.

In our current era of accountability, it is required for states to have a reading test in order to be accountable to the federal government. States need to show that students are making adequate progress in reading. These scores are not only used for accountability at a state level but also on a more local level. Community members look at these scores in an effort to understand the needs of a school or division. Unfortunately, when we look at the demographics of the students we are currently cajoling to stay after school for extra test preparation, we don’t see good results. Last year, although 90% of students in Virginia passed the end of course reading test, only 62% of students with disabilities and 70% of limited English proficient students passed. This, in turn, is affecting Virginia’s accountability score for the federal government, as students with disabilities and limited English proficient gap groups did not make adequate progress.

Instead of prepping students to pass a specific test, schools should focus on teaching students how to girl-reading1read better. Schools can do this by teaching students at the appropriate reading level and using explicit instruction while at the same time increasing teachers’ professional development on literacy. Students need to be reading high interest books that aren’t too difficult or they will give up and not read at all. English language learners may start school with little literacy preparation which, according to the NAEP study, results in only 3% of English language learners in the 8th grade scoring at or above proficient in reading. These students will not pass a test by having test prep. Instead, they should be reading, analyzing, and talking about books and passages that they can read so that they can do the rigorous work asked of them.

In Reading Next, a Carnegie Corporation report, researchers map out fifteen elements of effective adolescent literacy programs, none of which include test preparation. Instead, this report focuses on the importance of explicit instruction in comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, writing, and motivation for struggling readers. Schools should be providing these literacy interventions in the school day every day, not just after school as the test looms near. Time must be spent in class with texts in order to read and write effectively. Research suggests that these texts should ideally consist of good literature on and slightly above students’ reading level to grow as readers. Professional development should be provided for teachers so that students who struggle can work on strategic reading skills in all their content classes.

boy readingWe cannot better prepare students for the test by having them practice process of elimination in answering the multiple choice questions. Instead, we must require a shift in instruction to do the hard work of teaching students to be more strategic, aware, and yes, avid readers. We can do this by helping students where they are, providing support where they need, and allowing them time to read. Schools should shift our focus towards real reading in order to better prepare for the reading test. We need to prepare stronger readers to help them be successful both in their professional lives as well as in their community. So as spring is upon us, we cannot get caught up in the flurry of test prep remediation but instead should teach reading by having students read. What a better season for it? For surely, it is not a coincidence that a perfect way to enjoy this spring weather is to sit outside and read a good book.

References Pfautz article

Jeannie Pfautz is a reading specialist in Charlottesville, Virginia.  She loves the opportunities she gets to work on reading and writing every day with her students.

Book Clubs in AP English: Just let them talk

Some of it was great. Some of it not so much. I’m talking about the book clubs in my classroom this Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 5.42.03 PMyear. The great was actually my students reading and talking to one another about that reading. The not so much — the way I did assessment.

This is what I learned and what I will change for next year:

Book Clubs serve as a way to challenge my readers into the more complex books that many of my students would never choose for themselves. Book Clubs also allow my readers to talk about books in an authentic way without the strictures of guided reading questions or anything else that might lead to Readicide. (‘Read-i-cide: noun, the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools” –Kelly Gallagher) I wrote about the importance of balance literacy and how book clubs fit into that in this post.

I provide a short list of titles that I know contain fantastic stories of resilience, survival, hope, courage, and any other trait that prods readers to relate to the human experience. I introduce the books, usually with book trailers or video interviews of the author’s, and I include either on paper or a projected slide the synopsis and ratings from Goodreads or Amazon.

Students select their books, often talking with one another and making selections together. I ask students to purchase their own books, so they can annotate anything “interesting, intriguing, puzzling, contradictory, or you just plain do not understand.” Since most of my students come from less affluent families, we talk about the importance of libraries and surrounding ourselves with texts that can inform and influence our thinking. Often, students will purchase more than one of the books I introduce for book clubs. I also have a few copies of the texts in my room that students may check out if they cannot purchase their own. I always think my copies will be used more than they are, but I’ve learned that my readers like to buy books. Most feel the sense of ownership that I want them to feel.

Our first book club this year, I gave students a choice of the following titles, all centered around themes of family and parents and how they influence our upbringing and our choices:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safron Foer

Swamplandia by Karen Russell

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (literary non-fiction)

More students read The Glass Castle than any of the others, but every book was represented in at least one book club of three to six students. Students loved The Glass Castle, and they told me that they could relate to much of Walls’ upbringing.

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 5.42.19 PMAssessment:  For this first book club, I asked students to read with an eye looking for theme. They would work with their book clubs to craft a mind map that included numerous quotes from the book that contributed to the theme, and they would analyze these quotes as part of the mind map. They could create the mind map as a paper poster or online. As they read the book, they were to mark the text like I had taught with the short passages of text we’d read together in class, and they were to also look for sentences and phrases and passage that pointed to theme.

My students did not have a clue how to do that. Most did not mark their books, so when the project time rolled around, they ended up scouring through the book or searching for quotes on Goodreads or elsewhere to find enough quotes that they could plop into their mind maps. I needed to provide more guidance in annotating, and in reading for beautiful sentences, and in making thematic connections, and so much more.

Also, I allowed students to work in groups to create their mind maps. This did not work because no one in the group would rise up and be the leader. They were new in the class and new in their friendships with one another. Group work is a topic for another post, really. This time it failed, and I’ll need to do a lot more prep work before I spend as much class time on this kind of project ever again (if I ever do).

Our second book club, students choice a title from this short list, all centered around themes of culture and how these cultures influence us:

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Little Bee by Chris Cleeve

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Klaled Hosseini

More readers chose Sarah’s Key than any of the others. Students find stories of the Holocaust fascinating, and that shelf is a popular one in my classroom library. (Erika’s, too.)  Many students read The Namesake, and at least one book club read each of the others.

Assessment:  This one was even more lame than the first. Sometimes I feel the pull to get back to a Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 5.42.33 PMmore traditional pedagogy. I am the only one on my campus who fully implements readers and writers workshop, so I listen in often to what other teachers have their students do. If you teach AP English, at some point, you have probably had students write a hexagonal writing over a piece of literature. (Hexagonal because student write thinking about their knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as it relates to the book. It sounds like a great assignment.)

It was the worst writing my students completed this year — if they completed it at all.

I know why. There was no authenticity in it. Follow the structure I gave you. Each paragraph should be about this… No wonder they didn’t care about writing well. I was their only audience, and I was making them write something worse than a book report.

We wasted a lot of time. (The grading policy in my district requires that I reassess major grades. Hey, let’s write this paper again since you cared so much about it the first time. Right.)

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 5.42.45 PMMy readers would have benefitted more from a gift of time to talk about the books more. Shana posted about the value of book clubs for talk earlier this year, and after two subpar experiences I began to agree:  “asking students to keep the conversation [about their books] going for 20 straight minutes provides valuable time for students to build relationships [around conversations about their reading.]”

I would just let them talk.

Our third book club students selected titles from this short list, all centered on war (or internal war) and its influences on individuals and humanity:

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Room by Emma Donoghue

Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer (literary non-fiction)

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The majority of my readers chose to read ROOM or The Bell Jar. They loved Room, and didn’t think The Bell Jar lived up to its hype.

I scheduled more opportunities for students to talk about their books. I wandered the room, sitting at Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 5.42.57 PMgroups and listening in as conversations circled in and out and back again. Often, I placed a stack of TableTopic cards for book clubs in the center of their table, and students used these to guide their discussions. (Looks like the book clubs version of TableTopics is no longer available. Sad.)

Next year, I will do this again. I might ask students to look for significant passages so they can practice analysis on a page they select for themselves. Here’s a post that I’ll probably show them with a sample passage for craft study.

I might have them create a found poem or a black out poem.

Or I might just let them read and talk and read and talk some more.

That’s what I do in my own book club.

 

If you have your own suggestions for improvement, please share them in the comments.

 

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

Okay, I Will Share My AP Testing Data

A new friend asked me if I would share any AP testing data that I’ve gathered since embracing Readers and Writers Workshop. I had to think about it since I rarely think about it. I do appreciate the question though because it led to this post.

I need to tell you right up front:  While I appreciate the AP exam as a high-stakes test, I do not lay a lot of value on testing data for many reasons.

So many factors figure into how a group of students tests each year, and looking at figures from one year to the next, and trying to compare numbers with different groups of students has never made sense to me. The only real valid data is the growth I measure from the fall when students walk into my door until they leave me in the spring. However, I can tell you that the first year I implemented Readers and Writers Workshop and gave up whole class novels in favor of encouraging students to read books of their choice and taught skills with short, sophisticated, complex texts, my students’ scores were 12% higher than my students’ scores the year before.

The best I can do to respond to your question is to quote Stephen Krashen in the article “Free Reading:”  “. . .research strongly suggests that free reading is the source of our reading prowess and much of our vocabulary and spelling development, as well as our ability to understand sophisticated phrases and write coherent prose. The secret of its effectiveness is simple: children become better readers by reading.”

And…  “Research has . . .shown that SSR is at least as effective as conventional teaching methods in helping children acquire those aspects of reading that are measured by standardized tests, and pleasure reading provides a great deal that these tests don’t measure.”

The first two years I taught AP, I tried to do it like I learned at my APSI. I assigned the traditional novels taught in American literature: The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, The Awakening, The Grapes of Wrath — because the other AP teacher on my campus did. I can tell you, my students did not read. They even told me later that they didn’t — lots of joking about that on Facebook a few years after they left me. They knew how to play the fake-reading game perfectly.

I know Krashen’s research centers on much younger grades than our students in AP English; however, reading is reading, and students gain skills by doing it — skills that improve their lives far beyond those tested on one day in May as they sit for the AP English exam.

My students just wrote end-of-year reading evaluations on their blogs. Here’s a few of the highlights about reading this year in their own words. This is the kind of data I value:

“Being apart of a reading community has benefited me deeply within my entire life. Even though I didn’t read as much as I wanted to, the reading that I did do was very beneficial. Reading helped me expand my vocabulary a lot. Sometimes when I would speak to my mom I would use a word that I learned from the book I was reading and she would just look at me like she didn’t know who I was. Reading also helped me become a better writer. So many different books that I read helped me use different structures, understand how to use rhetorical devices, and use my upper level vocabulary.”  DeDe, currently reading Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

“Being part of a reading community as a student opened my mind how others thought of the book we were currently reading together. Occasionally, I’m an ostrich that’s always in the ground; thoughts to myself, ideas to myself, and the “this is what this means” mentality. I’ve slowly learned how to use the point of view of others by implementing it into my own work. In addition, this year’s English class did not feel like a burden compared to previous years. The freedom of choice we were given provided us with the decision to pick a book we enjoyed.” Doreen, currently reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

“I believe the place I need to improve as a reader is being able to find the hidden meanings or putting everything together in order for me to understand a book. Sometimes without me noticing I just read to read and I forget what I read and have to read the paragraph or page again in order for me to understand it. I need to read and take everything under consideration and understand what it is that I’m reading and at the end put it back together. Maybe my problem is that I try to read too fast.” Johnny, currently reading The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

“Being part of a reading community benefited me because I always felt like I needed to be reading a book. It felt splendid being a part of something, especially something I would of never thought I would be a part of.  I understood the importance of reading. The more you read, the better writer you will become. I realized what genre of books I liked and which ones I didn’t. Most importantly I explored a different variety of books and read a minimum of 12 books. Something I had never done before. Usually I would read a minimum of 3 books every year.” Lizbeth, currently reading Playing Dead byJulia Heaberlin

“My journey began with Escape From Camp 14. I moved through different genres and difficulty levels thereafter: Anna and the French kiss, Allegiant, High School Bites, The Glass Castle, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Where’d You Go Bernadettte, The Art of Secrets, The Hot Zone, Little Bee, The Joy Luck Club, Down the Rabbit Hole, Room, Incendiary, The Wright 3, and most recently, Y. During this time, I abandoned The Kite Runner, The Thirteenth Tale, Ready Player One, Saving Fish From Drowning, Telegraph Avenue, and Station Eleven.   Even I find it odd, that out of the entire list, I enjoyed The Joy Luck Club more than any other. I say this because I’m not the patient type- I like constant action, fueled excitement. The Joy Luck Club almost counters that expectation, and if I had to describe it, I might even consider calling it boring.” Nawoon, currently choosing — just abandoned Station Eleven

This evaluation by Jasmine is too good to not share the whole of it. And this one by Shaniqua.

I just need to share one more thing, a little gift I got today as I read student reading evaluations. I know most teachers get these at one time or another.

It is the thing that keeps us going.

Laura wrote:

“I still need to improve on not judging a book by it’s cover. For us to GROW as people, we must get out of our COMFORT ZONE and pick up a shattered book because it needs someone to appreciate it’s language. As much as reading conference were sometimes nerve wrecking for me, they helped me get a second opinion on my progress in class as a human and not merely as a student. I can never thank Mrs. Rasmussen enough for dedicating chunks of her life to her students. Positivity in a world were criticism is many people’s issue is so rare and pure. She truly cares about each of us and sees past our struggles and attitudes and tries her best to help us understand it’s okay to have emotions and display them for others to see.  I’ve learned it’s more important to turn our conflicts into beautiful gifts instead of becoming a bitter person.”

Don’t you think that is better than any testing data?

 

Our Year-In-Review

As we round out the 2014-2015 academic school year, I would like share our Year-In-Review from us here at TTT and dedicate it to all of our loyal and contributing teacher friends who share in our experiences throughout the year.  Playing with the Reading Writing Workshop model is always exhilarating and fresh and exciting and freeing and thought-provoking.  It’s always propelling us, as educators, to break through barriers and teach with our most authentic teaching souls.

So, to capture the essence of how we have all explored the model this school year; here are highlights that allow us to celebrate the risks, the questions, the stumbles, the ‘ah-ha’s, the setbacks, and of course…the successes.  As we are all still progressing through this last month of our current school year, we hope that resurfacing some of our favorite moments will ignite the fire that keeps us all educating with fierce passion, deep inquiry, and continual evolution.

The calm zen of the RWW in Texas.

The calm zen of the RWW in TX.

First up: The lovely Amy Rasmussen who never ceases to amaze all of us with her wit, wisdom, and wildly insightful thinking.  Here is a woman who has taken the RWW by storm and has not looked back; the only time she does is to pick up, dust off, and gently guide those who are trying to find their way through the process.  She is an excellent mentor and extraordinary educator who ensures that her Advanced Placement students are gifted the wonders of the RWW. Here is a collection of how Amy has guided us through the intricacies of customizing the RWW for our own learners:

A Feedback Protocol for Revision Workshop

5 Reasons Why Reading Conferences Matter — Especially in High School English

5 Ways to Enjoy the Last Month of School

 

A reminder of student movement and achievement.

A reminder of student movement and achievement in NH.

Next: Jackie Catcher’s name could not be more appropriate.  We know the catcher’s responsibility on the field is to guide the team to strategic success; Jackie does the same infield – in her classroom. She moves her students with her unyielding dedication through continual infused literacy by craftily customizing projects and lessons that engage students. She is a powerhouse who, through all the struggles and obstacles of a second year educator, never ceases to find innovative ways to educate and inspire.  Most importantly, she is always a learner first and shares her inquiry with others to not only think collectively, but to create success-driven solutions.  Here is some of her story:

Building My Library Around My Students

Unraveling the Mystery of Poetry

The Question That Changes My Students’ Writing

 

A bright and energetic learning environment in WV.

A bright and energetic learning environment in WV.

Thirdly: The always-invigorating Shana Karnes. Shana is a shining light to her students, yet her light shines brightly for the world of evolving educators as well.  She is open to sharing her passion, her innovative thinking, and the way she creatively customizes the RWW for her students in the throws of West Virginia.  Shana never loses sight of how vital piles and piles of literature are for the growth of her young readers and emerging writers.  She knows how to roll up her sleeves and do the work right beside her scholars.  It is through the sheer joy of all things literacy, that Shana explores the world of the RWW:

We Learn Facts from Fiction

Teach Readers, Not Books: A Case for Choice Reading in ALL Classes

The Value of Talk

 

The shelves where our identities are qualified, our ideas solidified, and our passion realized.

The shelves where our identities are qualified, our ideas solidified, and our passions realized in NY.

Rounding it out: Erika Bogdany.  Through the RWW I have challenged my students, and they in turn, have challenged me.  They push me continually with their own inquiries and want to be more fluid writers.  They challenge my writing by offering suggestions and insight that I have bestowed upon them; the gift of creating a safe community for all learners to read, write, risk, and share.  It is through the RWW that students find pride in their work, volume in their voice, crafted secrets in their writing, and beauty in themselves.  It is with passion and grace that students flutter and flop; yet learn how to fly:

All it Takes is a Tutu and Some Focus

Beyond These Four Walls

Today We Draw

 

We hope that our moment of reflection and celebration continues to provide you ideas and inspiration throughout the remaining time you have with your unique readers and writers this year.  We’d love to continue hearing your voices, feedback, and generous insight while we round out this school year…and look forward to the year ahead!

7 Moves in My Workshop Schedule

Quite often teachers ask me what the daily schedule looks like in my workshop classroom.

This is a hard one. I think mainly because it is not about the schedule as much as it is about the routines, or manners, we start putting into place at the beginning of the school year.

I’ve had a lot of adapting to do this year. Moving to a new school and adjusting my lessons to fit 85 minute class periods where I see my students twice a week for sure and every other Friday — sometimes. This is quite a change from 50 minute class periods where I saw my students five days a week.

Our normal routines  — and these are non-negotiables that make workshop work — consist of reading, conferring with readers, talking about books, writing in our notebooks, revising in our notebooks, sharing a bit of our writing, and learning or reinforcing a skill, then….it all depends on our workshop task. That’s why writing about my daily schedule is hard.

Here’s the best I can do without going into a long explanation — that has to wait for my book (Penny keeps telling me that my book will never get written if I keep writing on this blog, and I know she is right. Only so much time.)

READ — 10 to 15 minutes. This is sacred and silent reading time. Students choose books that interest them. I CONFER with my readers, always with a specific focus, depending on my reader.

TALK about books. Sometimes I do a book talk, reading a few pages of the book, or holding a book interview like Erika does. Sometimes a student does a book talk, if I’ve talked to her first and know she’s passionate about the book she’s just read. Sometimes I ask my students to just talk about the books they are reading. Shana wrote about the Value of Talk, and I agree completely: “Talk is one of the most valuable tools at work in my classroom.”

WRITE in our writer’s notebooks. Everyday we need to have our students thinking on paper. When I forget, or think we do not have time, to open our notebooks and write — in response to a poem, or a video, or a story, or about the book students are reading, or about whatever — I regret it. Discussions are richer when we write first. Discoveries are more insightful when we write first. Writing is better when we write, just thinking about our ideas, first.

Then, something I learned from Penny Kittle, we always read what we wrote and REVISE. Penny modeled revising with a different color, and I ask my writers to do the same. I simply say, “Read over what you just wrote. How can you make your writing better? Maybe add a phrase or two that develops your thinking more. Maybe change a word or two that adds a punch. Maybe you can remove some words and make your thinking more concise. Where can you add figurative language or a list or an interesting style move?” (When I check writer’s notebooks, I always look for evidence of revision. We work on establishing the habit of revision, daily.)

SHARE some of our thinking. Sometimes we pair up and read our writing to a shoulder partners. Sometimes I ask for volunteers to share out their writing. Sometimes I randomly call on someone (and I usually allow them to opt out at least once if they are uncomfortable reading aloud). Sharing is an important part of our community, and from the first day of school we work on establishing a safe and respectful environment where we can all grow as readers and writers.

Learn or reinforce a skill via MINI-LESSON. (If I introduce something totally new, like one of the AP English Language exam prompts, obviously the mini-lesson will not be so mini. On these days, the mini-lesson time and the workshop time allotment swap places. Sometimes I need the focused direct instruction time because it saves time in the long run.)

Our routines usually take about 35 to 45 minutes. That leaves us about half the class period to hold a workshop. This might be a readers workshop if we are practicing close reading or if we are preparing for a Harkness discussion. This might be a writers workshop if we are composing a piece of writing or studying the moves of a favorite author.

Of course, if we are writing, I change my hat and confer with my writers.

I would love to know the workshop routines you establish with your readers and writers. Please share in the comments.

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

 

Shelfie Saturday: Book List Bookmarks

shelfieThis year, I am convinced that the patron saint of libraries has arrived at EHS in the shape of a silver-haired spitfire. Kathy Vetter and her crew of library assistants have managed to shift the culture of our library from a stuffy prison in which students got kicked out all too often (for eating, sleeping, talking, breathing) into a warm, inviting space of relaxation. Surprisingly, this transformation and the allowing of food in the library have also ignited students’ interests in reading.

One of the library’s greatest programs for engaging readers has included setting up simple displays to attract students’ attention. While the displays aren’t flashy or ornate, they expose students to a wide variety of books. For example, in honor of June being LGBTQ month, the library set up a small table with a selection of LGBTQ literature. The selection included I Am Jazz, a book about a transgender child that recently sparked controversy in Maine (ourIMG_2153 neighbor) after an elementary school teacher read it to her class. In addition to the display, the library also provided copied articles about the I Am Jazz dispute to educate students. Talk about a teachable moment!

What I love most though is the increasedIMG_2154 availability of book list bookmarks. Throughout the year, the librarians have managed to set up an elaborate display of bookmarks including lists of Flume Award nominees, time travel titles, and novels in verse. Many bookmarks even include suggestions based off popular books; for example, one reads, “If you liked The Fault in Our Stars, you might like…”

As I reflect on my currently library, I look forward to aligning with the library and using their model within my own classroom. I currently use plate stands I bought from a craft store to display books on top of my bookshelves. I am planning to not only steal some book list bookmarks to provide to my students (who are always looking for bookmarks), but I am also going to use these bookmarks to help me develop my book displays

and even my classroom library shelves. In the meantime though, I will certainly count my blessings that such an angel of books not only appeared at EHS but changed the environment that surrounds one of our greatest school resources.

Missing Pieces by Meredith Tate

24903132I love receiving e-mails from students—not the “Is this due tomorrow?” or “Why do I have a zero in PowerSchool?” e-mails—but the ones that are written bleary-eyed, late at night (or sometimes early in the morning) from students who have just finished a book. Recently, Alyssa, one of my Advanced Composition juniors e-mailed me at 10:30pm after finishing Missing Pieces. She wrote:

“Wow, I just finished the book and I am completely shocked! Was definitely not expecting…[Can’t put this in because I don’t want to spoil it!]…I am extremely happy the way it ended! This was most certainly one of my favorite books that I read this year and if any of my friends ask for a recommendation I would without a doubt recommend it.”

As a teacher, finding a book students can connect with is a victory! But in this, case the victory was even sweeter. I grew up with Meredith Tate, the author of Missing Pieces, and even as children playing in the sandbox at our tiny four-classroom elementary school, Meredith knew how to weave a story.

Missing Pieces is the story of Tracey (Trace) and Piren, two best friends growing up in a dystopian world where they are matched with their spouses at six years old based on genetic compatibility. Despite Trace and Piren’s undeniable friendship and eventual attraction, they are paired with different partners. It is a fight between fate and free will.

While the plot might sound generic, resembling the many dystopian romances novels we’ve seen lately, Meredith succeeds in weaving together a distinctly unique story. Trace and Piren are flawed and frustrating and real. They live in a world of messy mistakes. As a social worker, Meredith doesn’t skirt around issues of alcoholism and abuse—instead she confronts them head-on, addressing the harsh, debilitating nature of addiction. I love that this book doesn’t cleanly fit into any distinct genre—it’s a romance, but it isn’t mawkish; it’s categorized as “new adult” but it begins when the protagonist is 14 years old; it’s dystopian yet it distinctly resembles modern society. Despite the numerous questions posed throughout the book (including those in the excerpt below), we learn that life is a series of difficult decisions; it’s the pure beauty of this rawness that makes this book relevant to teenagers.

“What if the one you’re supposed to be with, and the one you want to be with, are two different people? My entire life was mapped out for me before I was born. Is my only choice to silently follow the course already plotted? To blindly accept my future and walk that trail until I die? To smile and pretend everything is okay and I’m happy and in love with my Partner when I’m spiraling downward and drowning in my loneliness? I’m drowning, like in my childhood nightmares. Only this isn’t a nightmare; I can’t wake up from this life.”

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