Friday, September 13, 2013

Book Talk

For the first seminar in the new Language & Landscape program, I invited our dedicated teacher-librarian to do her amazing book talk for my students as an introduction to a discussion on literacy, book memories, and social media. The way we've set up this inquiry-based, blended learning program gives us one morning each week for Seminar Time - two 80 minute sessions with 14 students each,  a chance to check in on the week's learning, unpack & discuss the focus questions, and do "formative rounds" -- mutual accountability in a safe circle (ok, I just made that up but that's actually what we will move towards). If you're wondering, the 14 that are not in seminar at any given time are provided with some choice as to what to do (e.g. ongoing projects, online work set up in advance, consuming various media resources that have been "flipped" from the lessons). A computer lab is open to them during this time, although some choose to work elswhere.

Anyways, like many lessons that don't turn out the way the teacher plans (but actually go better), this one started with a design for a free-wheeling discussion on a number of topics. What we got instead was a 75 minute tour through young adult fiction from our librarian Ms Jandric. She had a cart full of books, a laptop and sign-out wand, and an incredible knowledge of what students read and what they might want to read next. She spoke to the angst and dreams and life-lessons behind the titles, and probed the students to articulate what they liked reading and why. She has a gift at this, the ability to use thoughtful conversation to match books to students who walk in our "Learning Commons" (fancy for library).

Here are just a few of the titles she paraded through our midst, each one with brief description and an "identity question" to hook the students:

Room by Emma Donoghue
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult
I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham
City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
... lots of fantasy, these ones sell themselves for those already into the genre

The students seemed too quiet to me, something I mistook for reticence but was in fact a respectful patience... they were listening intently, placing themselves in the position of a reader. This is "identity work" -- it often means having an instant empathy for a main character, in this case based solely on the librarian's stirring invitation and what other students had to say about the books. When Ms. Jandric stopped, they jumped on the books, and after two Seminars, about 24 out of 28 had a book they were excited to read. I thought is was cool that our French exchange student happened to be reading The Help translated into French, so the English version was a natural pick for her. The librarian, naturally, will follow up on the other four, never willing to be stumped by students who can'd find a book they like.

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