Student Engagement

Teen Read Week: Creating a Text-Rich School

October 15, 2012
Photo credit: utahstatelibrary

I'm a literature addict. And as a teacher, my mission is to spread this addiction to my own students. But I have a greater, more sinister, goal than that this year. I want to spread it to my entire school. And to do that, I have to allow literature to leak out of my classroom and into my school at large.

I've talked in a past post about the importance of building a literary rich classroom environment, but I'm moving up in the world. I want to build a literary rich school environment. Currently, my school, while being relatively clean and hospitable, is a very sterile environment. Picture walls of concrete punctuated with the occasional drought resistant plant. Anyway, I have a plan. I have a plan to highlight the literature our students are reading by having them create multiple projects that will help to bring out the literary environment in an otherwise dull landscape. For as Shakespeare says, "like bright metal on a sullen ground [our projects] shall shine more goodly and attract more eyes than that which have no foil to set it off." Wow. That Shakespeare sure knew what he was talking about.

Cultivating a Passion

For many teens, learning to read and comprehend is much more about loving literature as it is about targeted reading lessons. In fact, by the time a student is in middle school, I almost think it's more about luring them to reading than actually teaching reading. I'm not saying I ditch reading lessons all together, but this is a vital time for a student. It's a time when the student will either finally discover the books that have eluded them up until this point or it's a time when the love of literature and the layers of understanding granting to those who do may never be theirs.

For a teacher, this is a vital time in getting a skeptical student to explore the classroom library or school media center. It's a vital time to encourage a decent reader to want to read that more challenging book. It's a vital time to welcome reluctant readers to the alternative universe that is going on around them at all times, to the language that others know that they don't, and to the club that they want to join, but haven't yet. It's about showing them how to turn that key and open that door.

Teaching the love of reading is different than teaching reading, and if you can do that, you will have gotten a tween or teen 80 percent of the way there. (by the way, that's my own figure; I can't back that up at all.) This isn't done by opening up a textbook and forcing their gaze down onto the short story before them. This isn't done by bubbling answers or obligated book reports. This is done by busting upon the door to reading and walking through it with them. Show them that a world without reading is in black-and-white, and a world with reading is brighter than Oz itself.

So I thought I'd share a few projects and a few posts as a resource to getting tweens and teens pumped about books:

1. Stairway to Heaven

This summer, on my Facebook feed, I saw a photo of a beautifully painted staircase and immediately messaged our school's art teacher who messaged me back from a pub in England. "We have GOT to do this! You in?" I asked. She was, and so we began on our collaborative project. As soon as school started, I reached out to all the interested English teachers to get lists from their students of all the books they feel a student must read before leaving middle school. From there, I created an online survey of all the books. Meanwhile, the art teacher and I selected two staircases that would be painted, and the principal agreed to use some beautification funds to pay for the paint and supplies. Over the course of two lunch periods, my honors students manned a computer lab, allowing students to come in and vote for the top 18 books (the total number of stairs to be painted.) The advanced art class, then created templates for the 18 book spines, and began to paint. This project is in progress as we speak!

2. The Signpost Up Ahead

Next year, the goal is to focus specifically on settings from our favorite books. Inspired again from a Facebook image that was posted by Scholastic earlier this year, and using the same tactics, we will vote on important settings from different genres. The end result will be to create signposts that pepper the campus, pointing the way to different imaginary lands.

3. Coming Soon to a Classroom Near You

In the past, I have had students design movie posters to promote mythical movie trailers of their independent reading books. You can go to BigHugeLabs for a digital template for students to create great, professional looking ads. Have them submit persuasive text first for approval, and then let them create the cast and crew of their dreams. Remember that many images in ads are at least three layers of pictures. See if they can create symbols in the foreground, landscapes in the back background, and a main layer with characters to really add dimensions to their images. These can be posted in the bulletin boards in the hallways of your school to promote fantastic books that the students are currently reading. To create movie trailers, I use an iPad in the classroom. Using iPads, small groups can film, edit, and produce their own "book trailers." iMovie makes it really easy for students to create their own book trailers based on their independent reading books.

4. Spread the Wealth

Work with your local public library. Whatever you produce, be it a list of recommended books by your students, movie posters, digital trailers, etc. share them with your local library. They love the students' work, and the students are more likely to explore a library in which they've made their mark. When they see themselves on the wall, in the cabinets, or on the monitors they will more likely find comfort along their stacks.

An academic environment should have whimsy. It should be fun. The best way to get students owning their own academic environment? Have them design something, a legacy, to leave behind when they have grown beyond your walls. Have them leave behind evidence of their own learning to inspire students in the years to come.

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